Early intervention is the key

This article first appeared in the June 2019 edition of Proctor.

Youth justice advocates from all sectors of government, their various agencies, academics and community interest groups are arguably united in the desire to head off juvenile crime via early intervention of children before or immediately after they enter the youth justice system.

QLS has advocated strongly for an emphasis to be placed on diversionary strategies to keep children out of courts and detention centres, and given the chance of effective rehabilitation and support programs, along with other sections of the legal community such as the Law Council of Australia.

Society President Bill Potts told Proctor: “The Society has campaigned long and hard for considerable reform in the youth justice space to guarantee the focus was on preventing crime before it happened, rather than inflicting punishment and onerous rehabilitation requirements.

“QLS will continue to advocate for just and workable laws that both protect the community and strike a balance between deterrence and rehabilitation of young offenders.”

Law Council of Australia President Morrie Bales, in a recent written statement, said critical problems existed in Queensland’s youth justice system which must be addressed expeditiously.

Mr Potts said the answers and measures needed to provide proper youth justice reform in Queensland had already been addressed, with the 77 recommendations made in the Report on Youth Justice, headed and by retired and highly respected police commissioner Bob Atkinson.

In the report, released in June last year, Mr Atkinson identified “The Four Pillars’’ that had to be adopted by the government’s youth justice policy to affect change.

The pillars assert that early intervention, keeping children out of the courts and custody, and reducing offending were the keys to providing the best opportunities for children who offend.

“By intervening early when risk factors associated with anti-social or criminal behaviour are evident, there is a much greater chance of preventing a child’s later involvement in the criminal justice system and improving their life outcomes,’’ Mr Atkinson’s report says.

“Where children offend or come to the attention of police, it is critical that a focus is maintained on keeping children out of court, by way of police diversions accompanied by non-court support options.

“If children can’t be kept out of court, all efforts should be made to keep children out of custody prior to and following an appearance in court.

“The best chance of reducing reoffending behaviour among children is delivering evidence-based interventions that address their individual risks and needs determined by assessment, and that are delivered with the right intensity and frequency.”

Key recommendations of the report include:

  • continued investment in early intervention to prevent youth offending
  • intervention and support for parents as early as the pre-natal stage
  • greater collaboration between the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women; the Queensland Police Service; and the Children’s Court
  • more alternative and flexible schooling options for young people at risk of disengaging from education
  • keeping minor offences out of the court system
  • reducing the number of young people in youth detention
  • options to divert young people away from the youth justice system.
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