Two-Thirds of Children Held on Remand Aren’t Ultimately Sentenced to Detention: New Report

Media Release

Embargoed until 12:01 a.m. (AEST) Tuesday 29 September 2020

The Sentencing Advisory Council today released a report examining case outcomes for children held on remand* in Victoria in 2017–18. It reveals that two-thirds of remanded children did not receive a custodial sentence.

In the eight years to June 2019, the number of children held on remand on an average day in Victoria more than doubled from 42 to 90. Remanded children now make up nearly half (47%) of all children in detention in Victoria, compared to 22% seven years ago. The increase in remanded children outstripped any increase in the number of sentenced children in detention.

When a child comes into contact with the criminal justice system, the way the system responds can determine whether the child becomes caught in a revolving door of justice involvement. Being remanded increases the risk that a child will commit offences in the future.

This report reveals that 442 children spent at least one day on remand in Victoria in 2017–18.

Key Findings of the Report

Among the report’s findings are:

  • two-thirds of the 442 remanded children (66%) did not receive a custodial sentence – 58% of outcomes were community orders and another 8% were other outcomes such as court-ordered diversion or all charges being dismissed
  • the remaining 34% of remanded children received a custodial sentence – 29% required the child to spend more time in detention after they were sentenced, while 5% were ‘time served’ sentences
  • despite this, remanded children were five times more likely to receive a custodial sentence than all children whose case was finalised in the Children’s Court in 2017–18
  • the vast majority of remanded children (89%) were male, but remanded female children tended to be younger – 30% of remanded female children were aged 14 and under compared with 15% of male children
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were significantly over-represented, comprising 15% of remanded children
  • children from culturally and linguistically diverse communities were also over-represented, comprising 43% of remanded children.

In addition, those 442 children spent nearly 29,000 days on remand: 18,175 days were spent by children who received a custodial sentence, at a cost of approximately $26 million, and 10,755 days were spent by children who did not receive a custodial sentence, at a cost of approximately $15 million.

A number of factors were associated with lower rates of custodial sentences for children held on remand. These included:

  • being released on bail before the end of a case
  • spending less time on remand
  • their most serious alleged offence being a property damage or threat offence.

Having identified which children are least likely to receive a custodial sentence, the report suggests possible strategies to reduce the risk of children entering remand, including:

  • establishing a fully resourced, Victoria-wide, 24-hour bail system specifically for children
  • expanding the specialised Children’s Court to headquarter courts across Victoria
  • continuing to ensure that specialist services and programs are designed both with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Quotes Attributable to Council Deputy-Chair Lisa Ward

‘This is the first study in Australia to examine what happens at the end of cases in which children have been held on remand.

‘Being remanded separates a child from family and community, disrupts education and ultimately increases a child’s risk of future offending.

‘Our research suggests that a significant number of children might be remanded not just because of the nature of their offending and prior history, but because they couldn’t access supports that may have kept them in the community. Many remand decisions are made outside of business hours when access to support services is limited.  

‘We hope this report will assist policymakers in implementing the Victorian Government’s Youth Justice Strategy 2020–2030, which specifically aims to reduce the number of children held on remand where it’s appropriate and safe to do so.

‘Reducing the number of children held on remand could improve life outcomes for those children, result in significant cost savings, and make the community safer in the long term.’

*Remand refers to holding someone accused of criminal offending in custody pending the finalisation of their proceedings.

Children Held on Remand in Victoria: A Report on Sentencing Outcomes will be published on the Council’s website on Tuesday 29 September 2020.