Shifting priorities for juvenile justice

9 JULY 2009

Recent changes to New South Wales legislation indicate shifting priorities in philosophies around juvenile justice, according to CSU research.

CSU Dr Diane WesterhuisRecent changes to New South Wales legislation indicate shifting priorities in philosophies around juvenile justice, according to Charles Sturt University (CSU) research.
Dr Diane Westerhuis, a lecturer in Justice Studies at CSU‘s School of Social Sciences and Liberal Studies at Bathurst, says individualised justice grounded in the ‘best interests of the child’ – as derived from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – now appears to be diluted by ‘new principles’ of juvenile responsibility and reparation, and a shift of focus from the offending children to victims.
Dr Westerhuis will discuss her findings in a paper, A critical analysis of shifting philosophies: legislation and the interests of the child, she will present at the Critical Criminology Conference in Melbourne on Thursday 9 July.
“These changes also allow penalties imposed on children to be more like those imposed on adult offenders,” she said.
“Such shifts signal a return to discourses of accountability and responsibility described by other academics and researchers as ‘the growing hardening of public attitudes and criminal justice responses to young people … even if not always reflected in growing rates of incarceration’. But the shifts in discourse and legislation in NSW are accompanied by growing rates of incarceration of young people.”
Dr Westerhuis noted that the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice is building new places for young people in detention ‘in order to meet projected rises in the number of young people in custody, including remandees’, and that this is mainly due to more young people being caught in the net of changing legislation aimed at adults, and in the enforcement of stricter requirements to meet bail conditions.
“The outcome is that there are many more young people unable to meet conditions of bail, often through no fault of their own, and more young people are incarcerated,” Dr Westerhuis said.
“The NSW Attorney General needs to consider these events. State Parliament can solve this dilemma by excluding young people from the tough bail legislation and by providing more services to support these young people.
“Instead of funding more beds in juvenile justice detention centres, we should be finding ways to keep them out of detention, and rebuilding stronger community and family relationships, reintegrating these young people back into their communities. This applies equally to first offenders and repeat offenders, as detention is no solution for other than the most serious of crimes,” she said.

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