Children Who Enter the Youth Justice System Early Are More Likely To Reoffend

Media Release

For immediate release 9:00 a.m. AEDT Thursday 15 December 2016

Children who are first sentenced between the ages of 10 and 12 are more likely to reoffend than those first sentenced when they are older, according to a new report by the Sentencing Advisory Council. The report also documents a 47% drop in the annual number of young offenders sentenced in the Children’s Court since 2008–09.

The report examines prior offending and reoffending by the 5,385 young people sentenced in the Children’s Court in 2008–09. 

The 5,385 young offenders were sentenced for 97,482 charges over the 11-year study period (from 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2015).

The younger a child was at their first sentence, the more likely they were to reoffend (with any offence), to reoffend violently, to continue offending into the adult criminal jurisdiction, and to be imprisoned in an adult prison before their 22nd birthday.

The six-year reoffending rate of offenders who were first sentenced at 10–12 years old (86%) was more than double that of those who were first sentenced at 19–20 years old (33%). 

The report also reveals that:

  • since 2008–09, there has been a steady decline in the number of young people sentenced in the Children’s Court, from 5,385 in 2008–09 to 2,859 in 2014–15.
  • 61% of the study group reoffended within six years of their 2008–09 sentence. This compares with the 40% six-year reoffending rate for the general criminal population (identified in an earlier study by the Sentencing Advisory Council).
  • prior offending predicts reoffending. While approximately half (51%) of offenders with no prior convictions reoffended, the reoffending rate was 72% for offenders with one prior sentence and progressively increased to 90% of offenders with five or more prior sentences.
  • offenders sentenced for only transit (public transport) offences had much lower reoffending rates (30%) than those sentenced for other types of offences (69%).
  • the two most common types of reoffending were road safety offences (36% of offenders reoffended at least once with this offence type) and offences against the person, such as assault (34%).
  • 77% of young people in the study group were male. Differences in offending associated with age and gender included:
    • male offenders were more likely than female offenders to reoffend (67% compared with 39%).
    • for both males and females, the younger an offender was at their first sentence in the study period, the more likely they were to reoffend after their 2008–09 sentence. The difference between younger and older offenders was more dramatic for female offenders, with females who were first sentenced at age 10–12 being four times more likely to reoffend after their 2008–09 sentence than those first sentenced at 19–20.
    • reoffending varied depending on both age and gender. For example, the reoffending rate was 86% for males aged 10–14 at their first sentence. In contrast, less than 20% of females aged 18–20 when they first entered the criminal court system reoffended.
  • 115 of the 5,385 children and young people in the study group were sentenced to a youth attendance order or a youth justice centre order, which are the two most serious options available to the Children’s Court for 15–20 year old offenders. Of these 115 offenders, 83% reoffended, 79% continued into the adult criminal jurisdiction, and 53% were sentenced to a term of immediate adult imprisonment within the six years following their 2008–09 sentence.

Quotes attributable to Sentencing Advisory Council Chair, Prof Arie Freiberg:

‘The number of young people being sentenced in the Children’s Court has halved since 2008–09. This is consistent with other research showing a steady and encouraging drop in offending by young people. Most children and young people do not commit offences. But our research also shows that once children are in the youth justice system their reoffending rates are high.

‘We know that the relatively few children who start offending early are likely to have suffered trauma, abuse, or neglect. Many have witnessed family violence in their homes, or have been victims of violent crimes themselves. The youth justice system recognises this, and the sentencing of children and young people is also informed by the knowledge that young people are still developing and learning to control their impulses and emotions.’

‘This study suggests that sentencing alone cannot address the root causes of offending by young people. The best way to protect the community is to invest in measures that prevent or interrupt the criminal pathways of children who would otherwise go on to commit a disproportionately high volume of youth crime. Measures such as enhanced early intervention and resources to rehabilitate young offenders are the best way to steer at-risk children away from a life of crime and protect the community in the long term.’

The full report Reoffending by Children and Young People in Victoria is available on the Sentencing Advisory Council’s website.