What is changing

There has long been a gap in the justice system for young people who are on the edge but have not committed serious crimes. These are the young people who police, schools and the community can see show signs of being at risk of committing crimes and becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system, but there has not been an early intervention system to deal with them before they enter the justice system.

Select a link below to find out more about the existing process and what is changing:

The existing process

Young offenders in NSW can be dealt with under Young Offenders Act 1997 (YOA) or the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987.

The YOA provides an alternative process to court proceedings through the use of warnings, cautions and youth justice conferences. The intention of the Act is to divert juveniles who commit less serious offences away from court-instituted proceedings. However, under the current system most government agencies don't become involved with a young offender until they receive a supervised order from the Children's Court. This is clearly too late.

The discussion in the Young people and crime in NSW section of this website highlights the fact that while a high proportion of juveniles commit offences, it is only a small proportion that do so on an ongoing basis. It is these juveniles who are most likely to be caught committing a crime and to come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Police may issue a warning, which will be given to the young person at the time and place the offence was committed. Warnings are an immediate and direct response to low level offending. The young person is not required to admit to the offence. Warnings constitute a 'move on' direction and police are required to record the offender's details (name, address and date of birth). The young person's details, along with the details of the crime, are kept on the police database. However, a warning cannot be used as a record of criminal history. After a warning is issued, any further offending behaviour that comes to the attention of the police could result in formal action being taken.  

If the young person continues to come to the attention of the police, a decision will be made to issue another warning or to escalate the seriousness of response to a formal caution or a referral to a Youth Justice Conference. To be eligible for a formal caution or a Youth Justice Conference the juvenile must admit to the offence (after being given the opportunity to seek legal advice) and consent to the caution or conference. Eligibility for these processes is dependent on the seriousness of the offence, the degree of violence, the harm to the victim, previous offence history and any other matter deemed appropriate by the police. A denial of guilt or failure to consent to the caution or conference will result in the matter going to the court.

Formal cautions are issued by a police officer (generally a Police Youth Liaison Officer) at a police station. The offender must be accompanied by a parent or other responsible adult. Cautions can take from 20 minutes to an hour. Cautions can also be issued by a court.  

Youth Justice Conferences are facilitated by an independent convenor and are attended by the offender and their family, the victim and victim support person/s, a Police Youth Liaison Officer and other professionals as required. Conference participants discuss the offence; the impact on the victim(s), the offender's family and the community; and what action can be taken to right the wrong that was done.  

Young people who commit serious offences, or young people assessed as ineligible to be dealt with under the YOA, will face charges in the NSW Children's Court under the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987. This Act governs the jurisdiction of the Children's Court and sets out the main provisions relating to criminal proceedings.

Under the current system, it is at this time that a government agency response is made. Juvenile Justice may undertake a risk/needs assessment to assist in the development of a proposed case plan. Juvenile Justice will also be responsible for overseeing any supervised outcome orders and for the care of young offenders who are sentenced to custody.  

Both the community and detention based services provided to juveniles who have been sentenced by the court provide essential features of a crime-reduction intervention strategy. However, there is a clear need to identify the risks and develop appropriate responses before young people are sentenced by a criminal court.

Adding the Youth on Track scheme into the process of managing young offenders in NSW

Youth on Track scheme will provide a strong emphasis on intervening early, engaging families and responding to real and definable problems that are leading these young people to engage in criminal behaviour.

This scheme will allow young people, who may not have committed a serious crime, but who exhibit extensive risk factors, to be referred to assessment and case management at a point far earlier than is currently possible.

It also allows young people who may have committed an offence, but may not have any signs of ongoing criminal behaviour, to be dealt with on the basis of their offence.

Early intervention is a fundamental element of the scheme. Another key element is matching the level of intervention to the level of risk.

Research has confirmed that the majority of juveniles who are given a caution do not come into further contact with the police. This is the group of desisters who do not require any intervention to curb their criminal behaviour. On this basis, the first point of formal contact with police would be an appropriate screening entry point.

The young offenders targeted in the program are the ones who have the greatest risk of committing further and more serious crimes - therefore community safety will be improved by intervening early in their criminal careers.

It is important to develop a shared, validated and objective risk assessment, so there is a common understanding of high-risk young people across the sector, rather than various agencies within the sector using their own method of assessing for high-risk.