Radio National to broadcast UQ forum on youth sentencing tonight

Tonight’s Radio National broadcast of a University of Queensland forum is expected to spark community debate on State Government proposals for harsher sentencing of young offenders.

The youth justice forum, hosted by UQ TC Beirne School of Law and Caxton Legal Centre, will be broadcast on the ABC Radio National Big Ideas program at 8pm.

More than 150 people attended the Youth Justice and Detention as a Last Resort discussion at the Queen Elizabeth II Court Complex in Brisbane last Thursday (24 October).

UQ criminal law expert Professor Heather Douglas said the event aimed to highlight the potential consequences of the Government’s criminal law reform proposals under the ‘Safer Streets Crime Action Plan.’

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the detention of a child should be used as a last resort,” Professor Douglas said.

“However, this principle is under threat in Queensland and lawmakers should be considering how to avoid detention through use of a greater range of early interventions and sentencing options to deal with young offenders.

“By bringing together experts with considerable experience in the realm of youth justice our aim with this forum was to contribute some much-needed evidence to influence this debate in the hope of persuading lawmakers to reconsider their dramatic rollback of accepted legal principle in deciding these matters.

“Detention is a last resort when children are sentenced in all Australian states and territories.

“It should stay that way.

“Children should be treated differently to adults as detaining and removing them from their families, educational institutions and friendship groups marginalises them from their communities and may reduce their chances of rehabilitation,” she said.

The youth justice forum panel featured Royal Children's Hospital Child and Youth Mental Health Service Clinical Director Dr Stephen Stathis, Youth Advocacy Centre Director Janet Wright, barrister Jann Taylor and Griffith University criminal justice researcher April Chrzanowski.

A number of key issues are considered in the treatment of young offenders, ranging from social and medical factors to the high cost of incarceration in relation to alternative rehabilitation programs.

Panel member Dr Stathis said the vast majority of young people in youth detention centres have either a history of physical or sexual abuse, have suffered parental neglect or intergenerational trauma, or are exposed to a toxic peer group or family environment.

Early parenting programs such as ‘Triple P’, developed at UQ, and youth development initiatives can help to reduce the risk of offending by improving a young person’s home environment.

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Criminal justice researcher Ms Chrzanowski said it cost around $240,000 to detain a juvenile in a youth detention centre.

Ms Taylor said many young people in detention centres were unable to obtain bail because they had no safe place to stay due to family dysfunction.

The Youth Justice panel discussion was the final of a three-part Social Justice Series organised in collaboration with Caxton Legal Centre and QUT and Griffith law schools.

Tonight's Big Ideas program also will also be available as a podcast on the Radio National website.
Media: Professor Heather Douglas, 07 3665 6605, or Melissa Reynolds, 07 3365 2523,

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