Chapter 7 Children and crime

Key statistics at a glance

Children suspected of a criminal offence

  • In 2009/10, 2.4 per cent of 10–17 year olds in NSW were suspected of involvement in a criminal incident where police took action[1]:
    • 3.0 times greater for male children compared with female children
    • 4.5 times greater for 15–17 year olds compared with 10–14 year olds
    • These children were involved in 39,943 incidents.
  • Over the 10 years to 2009/10, the number of incidents where police took some action increased by an average of 2.0 per cent each year with a greater increase for female children than male children.

Type of offence

  • In 2009/10, the most common offences for 10–17 year olds suspected of a criminal offence where police took some action were transport regulatory offences, assault, and maliciously damaging property.
    • The most common offences for 10–14 year olds were maliciously damaging property, assault, shoplifting, and breaching bail conditions.
    • The most common offences for 15–17 year olds were transport regulatory offences and assault.
  • Over the 10 years to 2009/10, there was a significant upward trend in the number of breaches of an apprehended violence order (AVO), breaches of bail conditions by not appearing at court, assaults, and malicious damage to property.
    • There was a significant decrease in the number of property crimes such as burglary and motor vehicle theft.

Place and geographic location of offence

  • In 2009/10, the most common places for incidents involving 10–17 year olds suspected of an offence where police took some action were residential premises, outdoors in public places and on public transport premises.
    • The Far West and North Western areas of NSW had the highest rates of child offending for malicious damage to property.
    • The North Western area also had the highest rates of child offending for non-domestic assault and burglary.
    • The Richmond–Tweed area had the highest rate of child offending for shoplifting.

Cautions, fines and Youth Justice Conferencing

  • In 2009/10, 57.5 per cent of the 10–17 year olds suspected of, or admitting to, an offence where police took some action were diverted by police away from the NSW criminal courts.[2]
    • 58.8 per cent of 10–14 year olds and 57.1 per cent of 15–17 year olds were diverted from court.
    • The most common diversion for 10–14 year olds were cautions under the Young Offenders Act 1997.
    • The most common diversions for 15–17 year olds were infringement notices and cautions under the Young Offenders Act 1997.
  • In 2009, 38.3 per cent of the principal penalties[3] imposed by criminal courts were fines, formal cautions and dismissals following Youth Justice conferencing.
  • In 2010 there were 18,981 infringement notices issued by RailCorp, 57.8 per cent of which were for travelling on a train without a valid ticket.
  • Over the five years to 2009/10, the proportion of children diverted by police away from the NSW criminal courts varied between a low of 56.3 per cent in 2007/08 and a high of 57.5 per cent in 2009/10.

Remand (pre-sentence bail)

  • In 2010, at the time of their final court appearance, 3,502 10–17 year olds were on bail and 999 were in custody having been refused bail:
    • 23.5 per cent of male children had been refused bail and were in custody compared with 16.6 per cent of female children.
    • 31.5 per cent of Aboriginal children had been refused bail and were in custody compared with 15.8 per cent of non-Aboriginal children.
  • Over the five years to 2010, the number of children refused bail peaked in 2008 at 1,412 and has subsequently fallen steadily to 958 in 2010.

Community orders

  • On an average day in NSW in 2008/09, 0.21 per cent of 10–17 year olds in NSW were under a community based supervision order.
    • Aboriginal children were 15.0 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be under a community based supervision order.
    • Male children were 4.3 times more likely than female children to be under a community based supervision order.
    • Children living in remote or rural areas of NSW were 11.4 times more likely than children living in major cities to be under a community based supervision order.
    • Children living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas were 4.6 times more likely than those living in areas of low socioeconomic disadvantage[4] to be under a community based supervision order.

Unsentenced detention

  • On an average day in NSW in 2009/10, 59.1 per cent of the 371 10–17 year olds in juvenile detention were in unsentenced detention.[5]
    • Male children were 8.0 times more likely than female children to be in unsentenced detention on an average day.
    • 15–17 year olds were 6.4 times more likely than 10–14 year olds to be in unsentenced detention on an average day.
    • Aboriginal children were 23.8 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be in unsentenced detention on an average day in 2009-10.
  • The areas with the highest rate of children in unsentenced detention on an average day were the Far West, North Western, and Northern areas.
    • Within the Sydney region, Inner Sydney, Eastern Suburbs, Blacktown, and Outer South Western Sydney had the highest rate.
  • The median length of stay in unsentenced detention was three days compared with 60 days for sentenced detention.
  • Over the five year period to 2008/09, a greater proportion of the population of young people in detention were waiting to be sentenced.
  • Over the five year period to 2009/10 the rate of children in unsentenced detention on any given day peaked in 2008/09 at 0.30 per 1,000 children, falling to 0.28 per 1,000 children in 2009/10.

Sentenced detention

  • On an average day in NSW in 2009/10, 165 children were in sentenced detention.
    • Male children were 14 times more likely than female children to be in sentenced detention on an average day.
    • 15–17 year olds were 13.3 times more likely than 10–14 year olds to be in sentenced detention on an average day.
    • Aboriginal children were 28.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be in sentenced detention on an average day.
  • The areas with the highest rate of children in sentenced detention on an average day were the Far West and North Western areas.
    • Within the Sydney region the Eastern Suburbs, Inner Sydney, Blacktown, and Outer South Western Sydney had the highest rate.
  • In the five years to 2009/10, the rate of children in sentenced detention on any given day has increased steadily to 0.23 in every 1,000 10–17 year olds.
  • In 2009, more than 50 per cent of the young people in custody had a psychological disorder, and/or a history of child abuse and trauma. Just under 50 per cent had had a parent in prison and/or an extremely low or borderline IQ.
    • The average school leaving age for young people in custody was 14.4 years.

Reconviction

  • Almost 80 per cent of 10–17 year olds convicted of an offence in 1994 were reconvicted of another offence within the next 15 years.
    • 40 per cent were convicted of a further offence within 1 year.
    • 54.7 per cent within 2 years.
    • 62.0 per cent within 3 years.
    • Beyond 3 years, as each year passed, fewer and fewer children who were convicted in 1994 were reconvicted.

Introduction

The age of criminal responsibility in NSW is 10 years. This age is based on a conclusive presumption that no child who is younger than 10 years old can commit an offence.[6] In NSW, the common law presumes that a child between the ages of 10 and 14 does not possess the necessary knowledge to have a criminal intention, known as doli incapax. It is a rebuttable presumption which requires that the prosecution, in addition to proving the elements of the offence, must also prove that the child knew that what he or she did was seriously wrong in the criminal sense.

There is considerable research on children’s offending, including the impact this offending has on children and the community, the reasons for offending, reoffending and the reasons why an individual ceases to be involved in crime, and suggested solutions for bringing about change.

It is important to note that most children ‘grow out’ of offending, with offending rates usually peaking in late adolescence and declining in early adulthood. In Australia, offending rates peak in the 15–19 years age group and steadily decrease in each consecutive age group (ABS, 2010). The relationship between age and crime; known as the age-crime curve, is ‘one of the most generally accepted tenets of criminology’ (Fagan & Western 2005: 59. Cited in Richards, 2011a).

This chapter brings together data primarily from police and NSW court collections about children’s offending and how children are dealt with by the criminal justice system. The data presented reflects established state and national indicators. This chapter focuses on the demographic characteristics of children suspected of offending where police took some action in connection with a criminal incident, the offences they commit and outcomes, and reoffending.

The data was made available as a resource for policy and service delivery professionals working in both government and non-government settings to enhance knowledge about children’s lives. Since the purpose of reporting this data is to inform the development of legislative, policy, program and service delivery responses and support their continuous improvement, many of the measures point to deficits or problem areas. While deficit measures miss the positive aspects of children’s lives that can be drawn out through strengths-based measures (and potentially some emerging issues that may require new policy responses), such measures do assist efforts to address equity, effectiveness and efficiency concerns.

At the outset, the reader should be aware that what is reported in this chapter is a subset of what is known about children and crime, or what could be known. The data paints one picture of children and crime among many possible pictures. For example, comprehensive information on infringement notices issued by persons other than the police. However, in 2010, there were 18,981 infringement notices issued by RailCorp, 58.9 per cent of these were for travelling on a train without a valid ticket[7] (Table A7.1 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Reporting on crime is complex. Figure 7.1 provides a visual depiction of the relationship between actual crime levels, crimes reported/detected by police, and crimes recorded by police.

The largest rectangle labelled ‘Crime’ represents the actual conduct society deems to be criminal through its legislation.

The smaller rectangle shows that only some of these crimes are reported to police. Non-reporting may be due to perception of crime. For example the people involved in the crime, or the witnesses to it, may not think the incident was a crime (for example, a minor accident in a car park), or the crime has no victim (for example, drug use). Other reasons for not reporting a crime include where the victim fears further incidents if a report is made (for example, a domestic violence victim may suffer additional emotional, physical or financial abuse if they report the violence to the police).

The ellipse shows the subset of reported crime that police determine is crime. Some reports do not turn out to be crimes. For example, police who follow-up on a report of a break and enter may discover that the alleged offender had simply locked themselves out of their own house and they were attempting to gain entry through their window.

Figure 7.1: Proportion of actual crime reported to police and subsequently recorded by them

Note: This figure is for illustrative purposes only. It does not display the actual proportions of all crime, reported crime and recorded crime. It displays only the relationship between these factors.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

There are additional difficulties in determining children’s involvement in crime, including the reporting behaviour of persons aged less than 15 years.

Offences where police took action

The NSW 2021 – A Plan to Make NSW Number One (NSW Government, 2011) sets targets to reduce crime levels including domestic violence, alcohol-related assaults and other personal crime by 10 per cent, and property crime by 15 per cent by 2015–2016 (NSW Government, 2011).

In this section, a child is considered to have been involved in a criminal incident if they were apprehended by police and the police took some action other than giving a warning.

Two areas of offending are reported in this section: major crime categories and crimes commonly associated with children aged 10–17 years. In addition, information is provided on the demographic characteristics of children aged 10–17 years who offend, and the place and geographic location of the offence.

The NSW Police Force Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) is an administrative database and provides information on crime in NSW. It provides the best source of information on crimes committed and alleged to have been committed by children aged 10–17 years, and the demographic characteristics of these children.

COPS, as with any administrative collection, is subject to error. The limitations of this collection include item non-response, transcription errors, clerical and editing errors, errors relating to reporting by respondents, and definition and classification errors. In addition, the data may not accurately reflect the level of crime committed by children aged 10–17 years because of a number of extraneous factors that are not easy to measure. These include: many crimes are not reported; it is not always possible to determine the offender or the age of the offender (for example, when crimes remain unsolved); the low clear up rate for juvenile crimes such as car theft, shoplifting and property damage (less than 10% of these incidents are finalised[8]); and offences detected by police or actions following a report are strongly affected by policing practice such as targeting drug offences, breach of judicial procedures, offensive behaviour and assault of police.

COPS data are affected by legislative changes that may impact on reported crime statistics over time. To address some of these changes, driving offences or offences where the action taken by police was to give a warning, are excluded from the following analysis. Driving offences are excluded because legal and associated administrative changes that occurred in 2003 preclude any analysis of trends.[9] Warnings are excluded because of changes in recording on COPS that occurred in 2008.[10] The reader should keep these limitations in mind when interpreting the data. More information is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data reports.

One demographic characteristic of ongoing interest is the cultural background of children, particularly Aboriginal children. While COPS records Aboriginal identity, it was missing in a significant proportion of records. For example, in 2009/10 the Aboriginal identity of 28.2 per cent of children proceeded against by police was unknown.[11] While some of these children will be Aboriginal and some will be non-Aboriginal, the exact proportions cannot be determined. The high level of missing data precludes analysis of Aboriginal children separately from non-Aboriginal children.

In 2009/10, 17,223 children aged 10–17 years (2.35% of 10–17 year olds in NSW), or 23.5 in every 1,000 10–17 year olds, were suspected of a criminal incident where police took action[12] (Table A7.2 (XLSX 293.2KB)). These children were involved in 39,943 separate incidents (Table A7.3 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

When age and sex are considered, the rate of children suspected of criminal offending was:

  • 4.5 times greater for 15–17 year olds compared with 10–14 year olds (45.2 in every 1,000 15–17 year olds and 10.0 in every 1,000 10–14 year olds) (Figure 7.2) (Table A7.2 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.2: Children aged 10–17 years suspected of a criminal offence where police took some action by age, NSW, 2009/10

Notes:  Included are children suspected of a criminal offence where police took some action in connection with the offence that was not a driving offence. Excluded are children who were given a warning, or a legal process not further classified. Children proceeded against to court by way of Court Attendance Notice or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice are included. The 2009 estimated resident population data was used to calculate rates.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.2 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

  • 3.0 times greater for male children compared with female children (81.0 in every 1,000 males and 26.5 in every 1,000 females) (Figure 7.3) (Table A7.3 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.3: Children aged 10–17 years suspected of a criminal offence where police took some action by sex and year, NSW, 2000/01 to 2009/10

Notes:  Included are children suspected of a criminal offence where police took some action in connection with the offence that was not a driving offence. Excluded are children who were given a warning, or a legal process not further classified. Children proceeded against to court by way of Court Attendance Notice or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice are included. The 2009 estimated resident population data was used to calculate rates. *The total number excludes one offence were the gender of the child was not recorded.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.3 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Trends in offences

Between 2000/01 and 2009/10:

  • There was an increase in the proportion of male and female children suspected of criminal incidents where police took some action. This increase was greater for female children compared with male children (up on average 5% each year for female children, compared with 1% for male children).
  • The gap between the offending rate for male and female children has decreased over the three year period 2007/08 to 2009/10, reflecting a decrease in the rate for male children and an increase in the rate for female children (Figure 7.3) (Table A7.3 (XLSX 293.2KB)).
  • There was a greater increase in the proportion of 15–17 year olds (up on average 2.3% each year) suspected of a criminal offence where police took some action compared with 10–14 year olds (up on average 1.4% each year) (Table A7.4 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Type of offence

The NSW Police Force Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) is an administrative database and provides information on crimes committed in NSW. It provides the best source of information on the types of offences committed by children aged 10–17 years.

COPS, as with any administrative collection, is subject to error. The limitations of this collection include item non-response, transcription errors, clerical and editing errors, errors relating to reporting by respondents, and definition and classification errors. In addition, the data may not accurately reflect the level of crime committed by children aged 10–17 years because of a number of extraneous factors that are not easy to measure. These include: many crimes are not reported; it is not always possible to determine the offender, or the age of the offender (for example, when crimes remain unsolved); the low clear up rate for juvenile crimes such as car theft, shoplifting and property damage (less than 10% of these incidents are finalised),[13] and offences detected by police or actions following a report are strongly affected by policing practice such as targeting drug offences, breach of judicial procedures, offensive behaviour and assault of police. COPS data is affected by legislative changes that may impact on reported crime statistics over time. To address some of these changes, driving offences or offences where the action taken by police was to give a warning are excluded from the following analysis. Driving offences are excluded because legal and associated administrative changes that occurred in 2003 preclude any analysis of trends.[14] Warnings are excluded because of changes in recording on COPS that occurred in 2008.[15] The reader should keep these limitations in mind when interpreting the data. More information is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data reports.

One demographic characteristic of ongoing interest is the cultural background of children, particularly Aboriginal children. While COPS records Aboriginal identity, it was missing in a significant proportion of records. For example, in 2009/10 the Aboriginal identity of 28.2 per cent of children proceeded against by police was unknown.[16] While some of these children will be Aboriginal and some will be non-Aboriginal, the exact proportions cannot be determined. The high level of missing data precludes any analysis of Aboriginal children separately from non-Aboriginal children.

Children aged 10–17 years are involved in a range of offences.[17] Despite this, there is a community perception that some crime categories are more often associated with youth offending. These categories include:

  • Transport regulatory offences (for example, travelling without a valid ticket on the rail network, and smoking/drinking or using offensive language on trains or at stations)
  • Liquor and drug offences
  • Offensive behaviour
  • Breaching apprehended violence orders (AVOs)
  • Escaping custody
  • Other offences against justice procedures (for example resist or hinder police officer), and breaching bail conditions by failing to appear at court (Table A7.5 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In 2009/10, transport regulatory offences (17.1%) were the most common offence for 10–17 year olds suspected of offending where police took some action, followed by assault (11.7%), maliciously damaging property (10.4%), shoplifting (8.5%), breaching bail conditions (8.4%), and break and enter (6.5%) (Table A7.5 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

There were age variations for the most common offences:

  • For 10–14 year olds, malicious damage to property (13.5%), assault (13.2%), shoplifting (12.6%), breaching bail conditions (10.2%), and break and enter (9.3%) were the most common offences.
  • For 15–17 year olds, transport regulatory offences (20.1%), assault (11.2%), malicious damage to property (9.3%), breaching bail conditions (7.8%), and shoplifting (7.1%) were the most common offences (Table A7.6 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Trends in the offence types

For the periods 2000–2001 to 2009–2010 and 2005–2006 to 2009–2010, where police took some action in relation to a criminal incident there was:

  • A significant upward trend for children aged 10–17 years suspected of an offence in the number of:
    • Breaches of an AVO (up on average 7.3% per year over both periods).
    • Breaches of bail conditions by failing to appear at court (up on average 10.0% per year over the 10 year period and 11.8% per year for the 5 year period).
    • Assaults (up on average 3.3% per year over the 10 year period and 4.2% per year over the 5 year period).
    • Malicious damage to property (up on average 4.8% per year over the 10 year period and 4.1% per year over the 5 year period).
  • A significant decrease in the number of 10–17 year olds suspected of property crimes such as burglary and motor vehicle theft.

It is difficult to be definitive about whether the increases or decreases observed are real or an artifact of changes in policing practice, or some combination of both (Figure 7.4) (Table A7.7 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.4: Criminal incidents involving children aged 10–17 years suspected of an offence where police took some action for selected offences by 10 year average per cent change, NSW, 2000–2001 to 2009–2010

Notes: Included are children suspected of an offence where police took some action in connection with the offence that was not a driving offence. Excluded are children who were given a warning, driving offences or a legal process not further classified. Children proceeded against to court by way of Court Attendance Notice or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice are included. The 2009 estimated resident population data was used to calculate rates. *Includes assault police as well as non-domestic violence assault and domestic violence assault. **Includes break and enter dwelling and non-dwelling. The Kendall’s rank-order correlation test was used (see, for example, Conover, W.J. 1980, Practical Non-Parametric Statistics, 2nd ed, John Wiley and Sons, pp 256– 260). A two-tailed test was used to determine whether there had been an increasing or decreasing trend in the numbers of children proceeded against by police over the 10 year period. It is important to note that the test for trend is not sensitive to seasonal variations; it is sensitive only to a generally increasing or generally decreasing trend over the time period examined. Where a statistically significant trend was found (p <.05), the extent of the trend is indicated by the average annual percentage change. A trend test was not performed if there were fewer than 20 children in any year. Significant upward trends are highlighted in red; significant downward trends are highlighted in yellow.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.7 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In addition to the offences listed above, over the five year period there was also an increase in drug offences, shoplifting, offensive behaviour, transport regulatory offences, and stealing from a person by children aged 10–17 years (Table A7.7 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Between 2000–2001 and 2009–2010 there were some variations in trends for children aged 10–17 years suspected of an offence where police took some action in relation to a criminal offence by age, with a growing proportion of specific offences involving 10–14 year olds.

Compared with 15–17 year olds, for 10–14 year olds there was:

  • A greater increase in assaults, breach of AVOs, and malicious damage to property.
  • A greater decrease in break and enter, stealing from a motor vehicle, and fraud.
  • A smaller increase in transport regulatory offences.
  • A significant increase in drug offences.

It is difficult to be definitive about whether these increases and decreases were actual increases and decreases, or whether they reflect increased or decreased policing practices, or some combination of both (Table A7.8 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Place of incident

The NSW Police Force Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) is an administrative database and provides information on crime in NSW. It provides the best source of information on the place of crimes where 10–17 year olds were suspects.

The COPS, as with any administrative collection, is subject to error. The limitations of this collection include item non-response, transcription errors, clerical and editing errors, errors relating to reporting by respondents, and definition and classification errors. In addition, the data may not accurately reflect the level of crime committed by children aged 10–17 years because of a number of extraneous factors that are not easy to measure.  These include: many crimes are not reported; it is not always possible to determine the offender, or the age of the offender (for example, when crimes remain unsolved); the low clear up rate for juvenile crimes such as car theft, shoplifting and property damage (less than 10% of these incidents are finalised[18]); and offences detected by police or actions following a report are strongly affected by policing practice such as targeting drug offences, breach of judicial procedures, offensive behaviour and assault of police. COPS data are affected by legislative changes that may impact on reported crime statistics over time. To address some of these changes, driving offences or offences where the action taken by police was to give a warning are excluded from the following analysis. Driving offences are excluded because legal and associated administrative changes that occurred in 2003 preclude any analysis of trends.[19] Warnings are excluded because of changes in recording on COPS that occurred in 2008.[20] The reader should keep these limitations in mind when interpreting the data. More information is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data reports.

One demographic characteristic of ongoing interest is the cultural background of children, particularly Aboriginal children. While COPS records Aboriginal identity, it was missing in a significant proportion of records. For example, in 2009/10 the Aboriginal identity of 28.2 per cent of children proceeded against by police was unknown.[21] While some of these children will be Aboriginal and some will be non-Aboriginal, the exact proportions cannot be determined. The high level of missing data precludes any analysis of Aboriginal children separately from non-Aboriginal children.

In 2009/10, the most common places for incidents where 10–17 year olds were suspected of an offence and police took some action were:

  • Residential premises, mostly in dwellings (24.1%). Offences at these premises included malicious damage to property, break and enter, other theft, and assault.
  • Outdoors in a public place, mainly on roads, streets, footpaths and parks (22.2%).
  • On public transport premises, mainly in railway stations and on trains (21.4%).
  • On business and commercial premises, mainly in shopping complexes and department stores (16.1%).
  • On educational premises, mainly in secondary schools (5.3%).
  • On licensed premises, mainly in hotels and pubs (3.6%) (Table A7.9 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Geographic location

Rates of child offending vary by location. Figure 7.5 to 7.8 below show the child offending rates for malicious damage to property, shoplifting, non-domestic violent assault, and burglary. Offending rates are reported per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years, however, maps are displayed per 100,000 children to better illustrate differences between areas.

It is important to note that the area where the offence occurred is shown, not the area where the children usually resided. As a result, areas where a high number of children visit (for example, locations with attractions such as major shopping centres and cinema complexes) may have higher offending rates. For this reason the reader should be cautious when interpreting these figures.

Malicious damage to property

In 2009–2010, across NSW offending rates for children aged 10–17 years for malicious damage to property were highest in the Far West and North Western areas (18.31 and 13.19 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years, respectively). These rates were much higher than those in the Sydney area[22] (4.71 per 1,000) (Figure 7.5) (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Within the Sydney area, rates for this offence were highest in the Sydney local government area (21.84 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years), Leichhardt (13.70 per 1,000) and Camden (13.54 per 1,000) (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.5: Incidents involving children aged 10–17 years caught by police for malicious damage to property by location, NSW, 2009–2010

Notes: Included are children who are suspected offenders that are recorded by police in connection with a criminal incident that was not a driving offence. Excluded are children who were given a warning, or a legal process not further classified. Children proceeded against to court by way of Court Attendance Notice or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice are included. The 2009 estimated resident population data was used to calculate rates.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Shoplifting

In 2009–2010, across NSW offending rates for children aged 10–17 years for shoplifting were highest in the Richmond–Tweed area (7.41 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years). This rate is almost twice that for the Sydney area[23] (Figure 7.6) (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Within the Sydney local government area, rates for this offence were highest in areas that had large shopping complexes - Sydney (40.07 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years), Botany Bay (16.27 per 1,000), Willoughby (12.14 per 1,000), Hurstville (10.08 per 1,000) and Burwood (9.81 per 1,000).

Figure 7.6: Incidents involving children aged 10–17 years caught by police for stealing from retail stores by police by location, NSW, 2009–2010

Notes: Included are children who are suspected offenders that are recorded by police in connection with a criminal incident that was not a driving offence. Excluded are children who were given a warning, or a legal process not further classified. Children proceeded against to court by way of Court Attendance Notice or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice are included. The 2009 estimated resident population data was used to calculate rates.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Non-domestic violence assault

In 2009–2010, across NSW offending rates of non-domestic violence assault for children aged 10–17 years were highest in the North Western area (9.53 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years). This rate is almost three times that of the Sydney area[24] (3.30 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years) (Figure 7.7) (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Across the Sydney local government area, rates for this offence were highest in Sydney (18.80 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years), Campbelltown (8.03 per 1,000) and Leichhardt (7.99 per 1,000).

Figure 7.7: Incidents involving children aged 10–17 years caught by police for non-domestic violence related assault by location, NSW, 2009–2010

Notes: Included are children who are suspected offenders that are recorded by police in connection with a criminal incident that was not a driving offence. Excluded are children who were given a warning, or a legal process not further classified. Children proceeded against to court by way of Court Attendance Notice or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice are included. The 2009 estimated resident population data was used to calculate rates.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Burglary – break and enter

In 2009–2010, across NSW offending rates for children aged 10–17 years for burglary were highest in the North Western and Northern areas (14.66 and 13.22 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years, respectively). These rates were over six times those for the Sydney area[25] (1.96 per 1,000) (Figure 7.8) (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Within the Sydney local government area, rates for this offence were highest in Gosford and Campbelltown (5.44 and 5.30 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years, respectively).

Figure 7.8: Incidents involving children aged 10–17 years caught by police for break and enter (dwelling and non-dwelling) by location, NSW, 2009–2010

Notes: Included are children who are suspected offenders that are recorded by police in connection with a criminal incident that was not a driving offence. Excluded are children who were given a warning, or a legal process not further classified. Children proceeded against to court by way of Court Attendance Notice or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice are included. The 2009 estimated resident population data was used to calculate rates.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.10 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Outcomes of offences

Reduction in the rate of children aged 12–17 years who are under Juvenile Justice supervision is a key national indicator for children and crime (AIHW, 2010).

There are a range of options to respond to children aged 10–17 years who are suspected of an offence. The actions taken by police and criminal courts are reported in this section.

The NSW Police Force Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) is an administrative database and provides information on crime in NSW. It provides the best source of information on the actions taken by police when an offence is committed by children aged 10–17 years and the demographic characteristics of these children. The NSW criminal courts’ JusticeLink holds the best source of information on the penalties imposed by courts on offenders, including bail, supervision orders and detention. The Juvenile Justice National Minimum Data Set (JJ NMDS) provides the best source of information that allows comparisons to be made across Australian jurisdictions on children who are supervised by juvenile justice agencies both in the community and in detention. The Young People in Custody Health Survey (YPICHS) provides the best source of information on the health status of young people in juvenile detention across NSW.

One demographic characteristic of ongoing interest is the cultural background of children, particularly Aboriginal children. While COPS records Aboriginal identity, it was missing in a significant proportion of records. For example, in 2009/10 the Aboriginal identity of 28.2 per cent of children proceeded against by police was unknown. While some of these children will be Aboriginal and some will be non-Aboriginal, the exact proportions cannot be determined. The high level of missing data precludes any analysis of Aboriginal children separately from non-Aboriginal children. The JJ NMDS collects and reports on Aboriginal children separately from non-Aboriginal children.

COPS, JusticeLink and the JJ NMDS, as with any administrative collections, are subject to error. The limitations of these collections include item non-response, transcription errors, clerical and editing errors, and definition and classification errors. In addition, the data from COPS may not accurately reflect the level of crime committed by children aged 10–17 years because of a number of extraneous factors that are not easy to measure. These include: many crimes are not reported; it is not always possible to determine the offender, or the age of the offender (for example, when crimes remain unsolved); the low clear up rate for juvenile crimes such as car theft, shoplifting and property damage (less than 10% of these incidents are finalised[26]); and offences detected by police or actions following a report are affected by policing practice such as targeting drug offences, breach of judicial procedures, offensive behaviour and assault of police.

YPICHS uses a survey approach and, as is the case with any study, using this approach is subject to error. The limitations include non-sampling and sampling errors. In addition, the YPICHS included an extensive array of physical health tests, a lengthy health questionnaire and psychological tests. It is possible that some young people became fatigued and may have taken less care with their responses in order to complete the survey more quickly. The effect of this is not known but is reported as minimal (Indig et al, 2011). Further limitations are the small sample size of young women, exclusion of non-English speaking juvenile detainees, and the use of some psychometric instruments that had not been validated for use with Aboriginal populations. The reader should keep these limitations in mind when interpreting the data. More information is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data reports.

Police and criminal courts have a range of options available to them when dealing with children alleged or found to have committed a criminal offence. Depending on the circumstances, police can issue an infringement notice, give the child a warning or a caution, refer the child to a Youth Justice Conference, or commence court proceedings. If proceedings are commenced, children generally appear before the Children’s Court or a Local Court. However children may be tried in the District Court or the Supreme Court for very serious offences.

The Young Offenders Act 1997 came into effect on 6 April 1998 as a way to divert young people from the formal juvenile justice system. Police are the gatekeepers and primary decision-makers under the Act. The Act sets out an integrated hierarchy of responses to offending by children and young people. Police can use warnings or cautions, refer the young offender for a Youth Justice Conference for more serious offences, or charge. Records are kept of the outcome in all cases.

How a young person is dealt with depends on the type of offence, its seriousness, the level of violence involved, the harm caused to the victim, the young person’s previous offending history and any other matter police think appropriate in the circumstances. Most offences can be dealt with under the Act, with some exceptions such as strictly indictable offences, offences of a sexual nature, breaches of apprehended violence orders and most drug matters. For cautions and conferences, the young person must also make a legal admission and consent to the process.

Warnings and cautions are administered by NSW Police, while Youth Justice Conferences are administered by Juvenile Justice NSW. If criminal proceedings are commenced, a Children’s Court magistrate may give the child a caution or refer the matter to conferencing if it is considered to be appropriate.

At the initial court appearance, the court may decide to dismiss the charge or divert the child through the use of a caution or a referral to a Youth Justice Conference. If the trial proceeds, the court will decide to either remand the young person in custody until the next court appearance or release the young person on supervised (also known as conditional) or unsupervised bail. If the charge is proven, the court can hand down a number of orders. These can include fines, good behaviour bonds, community service orders, community work orders, probation, suspended sentences, home detention and detention.

In 2008, the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Amendment (Youth Conduct Orders) Act 2008 was passed to trial a new Youth Conduct Orders program. The Act commenced on 1 July 2009 and under the program young offenders charged with specific offences can be placed on a Youth Conduct Order for up to 12 months. Orders can include strict limitations on a juvenile’s movement and behaviour, including curfews, school attendance requirements and non-association orders. Offenders can also undergo intensive case management with their families, forcing them to confront issues like drug and alcohol dependence.

It was initially proposed the trial would operate for two years. The program has been extended to February 2012 and now include all offences capable of being dealt with to finality in the Children’s Court (except for sex offences, serious children’s indictable offences and traffic offences). The number of participating Local Area Commands has increased from Campbelltown, Mount Druitt and New England to now include Liverpool, Macquarie Fields, Blacktown and St Marys.

Police actions

In 2009/10, police referred 42.5 per cent of offences involving 10–17 year olds to a NSW criminal court: 41.2 per cent of the offences involved 10–14 year olds and 42.9 per cent of the offences involved 15–17 year olds (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

There are alternative options to commencing court proceedings available to police, including warnings, infringement notices, cautions and Youth Justice Conferences:

  • A warning is given to a child by a police officer at the time and place where the offence is committed. The child does not have to admit the offence.
  • Infringement notices are on the spot fines given for offences such as riding a bicycle without a helmet or travelling on a train without a ticket.
  • A Youth Justice Conference is facilitated by an independent convenor and brings together the child and his/her family, the victim(s) and his/her support person(s), police, and other people such as a social worker, if appropriate. Conference participants talk about the offence committed, its impact, and what action can be taken to repair the harm caused.
  • A caution is usually given to a child by a police officer at a police station, 10 to 21 days after the offence. The child must consent to the caution and admit the offence. The child is accompanied by his/her parent(s) or guardian(s) and must face what he/she has done. Children may only be cautioned on three occasions.

Court is generally reserved for children who have usually been alleged to have committed more serious crimes, or have repeatedly received warnings, conferences, cautions or infringement notices for other offences.

Over the period 2005/6 to 2009/10 the proportion of children diverted by police away from NSW criminal courts has varied between a low of 56.3 per cent in 2007/08 and a high of 57.5 per cent in 2009/10. Over the same period, the proportion of 10–17 year olds proceeding to a criminal court varied between a low of 42.8 per cent in 2008/09 and a high of 43.6 per cent in 2007/08 (Figure 7.9) (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.9: Children aged 10–17 years where police took some action for criminal offending, NSW, 2005/06 to 2009/10

 

Notes: The children included here are suspected offenders recorded by police in connection with a criminal incident and formally proceeded against either to court or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, Cannabis Caution, Other Drug Caution, Criminal Infringement Notice, or Infringement Notice. Excluded are children who were given a warning, driving offences, or a legal process not further classified. The count is not of unique children - where a child was involved in multiple criminal incidents throughout the year they appear multiple times.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In 2009, 21,952 of the police charges concerning 10–17 year olds proceed to a NSW criminal court. In the same year, 9,374 children appeared before a NSW criminal court (1.3% of the 10–17 year olds in NSW) (Table A7.12 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

When the most serious or principal offence[27] is considered, the greatest proportion of children appeared for:

  • Acts intended to cause injury such as assault (27.9% of children aged 10–17 years appearing in court).
  • Theft and related offences (22.8%).
  • Public order offences such as swearing (22.6%).
  • Offences against justice procedures such as breaching bail conditions (18.2%).
  • Property damage and environmental pollution (17.6%).
  • Traffic and regulatory offences (17.6%) (Figure 7.10) (Table A7.12 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.10: Proportion of offences concerning children aged 10–17 years* who appeared before a NSW criminal court by the most serious offence type, NSW, 2009

Notes: *Children charged are distinct children within an offence category. If one child has more than one charge in an offence category group, this child will be counted only once in the total for that offence group - the most serious offence or principal offence is reported here.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.12 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Cautions, fines and Youth Justice Conferencing

Results from COPS

In 2009/10 nearly 60 per cent (57.5%) of children who offended were diverted by police away from the NSW criminal courts: 58.8 per cent of 10–14 year olds and 57.1 per cent of 15–17 year olds (Figure 7.11) (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)). The diversion options used varied by age:

  • For 10–14 year olds the most common options were cautions under the Young Offenders Act 1997 (42.8%), infringement notices (8.9%), and Youth Justice Conferences (7.1%) (Figure 7.11) (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).
  • For 15–17 year olds the most common options were infringement notices and a caution under the Young Offenders Act 1997 (27.2% and 24.8%), followed by Youth Justice Conferences (5.0%) (Figure 7.12) (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.11: Children aged 10–14 years diverted by police away from criminal courts by diversion option and year, NSW, 2005/06 to 2009/10

Notes: The children included here are suspected offenders recorded by police in connection with a criminal incident and formally proceeded against either to court or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, or Infringement Notice. Excluded are children who were given a warning, driving offences, or a legal process not further classified. Cannabis Caution and Criminal Infringement Notice are also excluded due to small numbers. The count is not of unique children – where a child was involved in multiple criminal incidents throughout the year they appear multiple times.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.12: Children aged 15–17 years diverted by police away from courts by diversion option and year, NSW, 2005/06 to 2009/10

Notes: The children included here are suspected offenders recorded by police in connection with a criminal incident and formally proceeded against either to court or proceeded against other than to court by way of Youth Justice Conference, Caution – Young Offenders Act, or Infringement Notice. Excluded are children who were given a warning, driving offences, or a legal process not further classified. Cannabis Caution and Criminal Infringement Notice are also excluded due to small numbers. The count is not of unique children – where a child was involved in multiple criminal incidents throughout the year they appear multiple times.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Results from JusticeLink

In 2009, fines, formal and informal cautions, and dismissals following Youth Justice Conferencing made up 38 per cent of the principal penalties imposed by criminal courts:

  • 1,269 (16.9%) fines
  • 944 (12.6%) formal cautions
  • 569 (7.6%) dismissed following a Youth Justice Conference
  • 97 (1.3%) informal cautions/warnings (Table A7.13 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

The use of these penalties differed by age group:

  • For 10–14 year olds, the most common penalty was dismissed with a caution (Young Offenders Act 1997) (18.6%), then dismissed following a Youth Justice Conference (8.1%) and a fine (3.7%).
  • For 15–17 year olds, the most common penalty was a fine (19.3%), dismissed with a caution (Young Offenders Act 1997) (11.5%), and dismissed following a Youth Justice Conference (7.5%) (Table A7.13 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

There is no evident pattern in the use of diversionary options by police in NSW over the period 2005/06 to 2009/10:

  • Caution under the Young Offenders Act 1997 ranged from 29.0 per cent of all police actions to 30.9 per cent (the use of this option peaked in 2006/07).
  • Infringement notices ranged from 20.7 per cent of all police actions to 22.4 per cent (the use of this option peaked in 2009/10).
  • Youth Justice Conferencing ranged from 5.3 per cent of all police actions to 6.3 per cent (the use of the use of this option peaked in 2007/08) (Table A7.11 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Remand (pre-sentence bail) and unsentenced detention

There are a number of unsupervised and supervised community based orders available to the courts for children who are awaiting trial or sentencing. These include placing children on supervised or conditional bail. Under the Bail Act 1978 (NSW), children may have a range of conditions attached to their bail such as residing with a specific person, adhering to curfews and not associating with particular individuals. If a child, because of their individual circumstances and vulnerabilities, is unable to comply with such conditions they may subsequently be refused bail (CCYP, 2011).

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, Article 13.1 states that detention pending trial shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time (UN General Assembly, 1985).

In January 2011 the NSW Law Reform Commission received reference to review the Bail Act 1978. The Terms of Reference include whether the Act should make a distinction between young offenders and adults and if so, what special provision should apply to young offenders.

Results from JusticeLink (bail)

JusticeLink does not record information on the number of applications for bail. However information is available on the number of 10–17 year olds on bail, and those refused bail and in custody at the time of their final court appearance. This information is available for both the Children’s Courts and Local Courts for the period 2006 to 2010, and for Higher Courts for the period 2009 to 2010.

In 2010, at the time of their final court appearance, 3,502 10–17 year olds were on bail and 999 were placed in custody having been refused bail.[28]

  • Children’s Courts recorded 3,359 children on bail and 938 in custody having been refused bail.
  • Local Courts recorded 75 children on bail and 20 in custody having been refused bail.
  • Higher Courts recorded 68 children on bail and 41 in custody having been refused bail (Figure 7.13) (Table A7.14 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.13: Children aged 10–17 years with a finalised appearance by bail status, type of criminal court and year, NSW, 2009 and 2010

Notes: The bail status at the time of the court finalisation is reported. The 212 children who were in custody for a prior offence at the time of their bail application and who were refused bail are excluded. If a child had more than one court finalisation, each finalisation is counted.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.14 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In 2010, there was variation in the proportion of children who had been refused bail at the time of their final court appearance by sex and Aboriginal identity:

  • 23.5 per cent of male children had been refused bail and were in custody compared with 16.6 per cent of female children.
  • 31.5 per cent of Aboriginal children had been refused bail and were in custody compared with 15.8 per cent of non-Aboriginal children (Table A7.14 (XLSX 293.2KB)).
  • The same pattern was evident in 2009 (Table A7.14 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Over the period 2006 to 2010 the number of children refused bail in a Children’s Court or Local Court peaked in 2008 at 1,412 and has fallen steadily to 958 in 2010.

The peak in 2008 was also evident for children on bail, however the increase from 2006 (3,390 children on bail) was greater than for children refused bail, as was the decline in 2010 (Figure 7.14) (Table A7.15 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.14: Children aged 10–17 years appearing in a NSW Children’s or Local Court by bail status, NSW, 2006 to 2010

Notes: The bail status at the time of the court finalisation is reported. If a child had more than one court finalisation, each finalisation is counted. The table excludes children who had matters finalised in Higher Courts. This is because bail information from these courts is only available for 2009 and 2010. In Higher Courts in 2009, 69 children were on bail and 40 were in custody – bail refused. In 2010, 68 were on bail and 41 were in custody – bail refused. Also excluded are 212 children who were in custody for a prior offence at the time of their bail application and refused bail.

Source: NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.15 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Results from the JJ NMDS (unsentenced detention)

The Juvenile Justice system in NSW is based on a number of principles including that children who break the law can and should be rehabilitated and that detention should be an option of last resort (a requirement of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) (AIHW, 2011). As at 30 June 2010, there were nine Juvenile Justice Centres across NSW.

On any given day in 2009/10, 371 10–17 year olds were detained in NSW, or 0.051 per cent of all the 10–17 year olds in NSW (0.51 in every 1,000 10–17 year olds). This is higher than the Australian average of 0.37 in every 1,000 10–17 year olds detained (Table A7.16 (XLSX 293.2KB)). The number of children in detention at any one time is the result of the average rate of children entering detention and the average length of stay.

Of the 371 children in detention on any given day in NSW in 2009/10, 203 or 54.7 per cent were in unsentenced detention[29] (0.28 in every 1,000 10–17 year olds). This compares with 49.3 per cent Australia wide (0.20 in every 1,000 10–17 year olds) (Table A7.17 (XLSX 293.2KB)). Information on sentenced detention is provided at (Sentenced Detention). When sex, age and Aboriginal identity are considered, on an average day the rate of children in unsentenced detention was:

  • 8.0 times greater for male children compared with female children (0.48 per 1,000 males and 0.06 per 1,000 females).
  • 6.4 times greater for 15–17 year olds compared with 10–14 year olds (0.58 for 15–17 year olds and 0.09 per 1,000 10–14 year olds) (Table A7.17 (XLSX 293.2KB)).
  • 24.2 times greater for Aboriginal children compared with non-Aboriginal children (6.06 per 1,000 Aboriginal children and 0.25 per 1,000 non-Aboriginal children) (Table A7.16 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

The geographic areas in NSW with the highest rate of children in unsentenced detention on an average day were the Far West (1.27 children in every 1,000), North Western (0.88 per 1,000) and Northern areas (0.61 per 1,000) (Figure 7.15) (Table A7.18 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Within the Sydney region the areas with the highest rate of children in unsentenced detention on an average day were Inner Sydney (0.83 per 1,000 children), Eastern Suburbs (0.47 per 1,000), Blacktown (0.36 per 1,000), and Outer South Western Sydney (0.35 per 1,000) (Figure 7.15) (Table A7.18 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.15: Children aged 10–17 years in unsentenced detention on an average day by Statistical Division, NSW, 2009/10

Notes: Young people with an unknown or invalid postcode are excluded. Population for the 2009–2010 financial year is the unweighted mean of the populations in 2009 and 2010.

Sources: NSW Commission for Children and Young People calculations based on Juvenile Justice National Minimum Data Set and ABS Estimated Residential Populations (2009 and 2010) (Table A7.18 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In its 2011 report into juvenile justice in Australia, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) noted that while remand is typically used only when other options, such as releasing children on supervised or unsupervised bail, are not considered appropriate, most remand periods in NSW were not followed by periods of sentenced detention (AIHW, 2011). Data on remand periods completed in 2008–2009, suggests that 68 per cent of remand periods did not result in a subsequent period of detention (AIHW, 2011: p123).

Over the period 2005/06 to 2009/10 the rate of children in unsentenced detention on any given day peaked in 2008/09 at 0.30 per 1,000 children, falling to 0.28 per 1,000 children in 2009/10 (Figure 7.16) (Table A7.19 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.16: Children aged 10–17 years in detention by legal status and year, NSW, 2005/06 to 2009/10

Notes: Unsentenced detention refers to all 10–17 year olds who have not been sentenced, regardless of whether they have been placed in detention following a police referral or a court referral (remand). Rates are calculated using 2006 Census population for Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Rates and the Estimated Resident Population of the respective year is used to calculate rates for the total group.

Source: Juvenile justice in Australia 2008/09. AIHW (Table A7.19 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

The proportion of children in detention who were in unsentenced detention has varied over this period between a low of 55.0 per cent in both 2005/06 and 2009/10 and a high of 61.4 per cent in 2007/08 (Figure 7.16) (Table A7.19 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In 2009/10, the median length of stay for a child aged 10–17 years in unsentenced detention in NSW was three days. This compares with four days Australia wide. Aboriginal children spent five days in unsentenced detention, three days longer than non-Aboriginal children (Table A7.20 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Community orders

The rate of 12–17 year olds under juvenile justice supervision is a key national indicator (AIHW, 2010). Children under supervision are a particularly disadvantaged and high risk group. They have been found to have high levels of socioeconomic stress, low levels of educational attainment, significant physical and mental health issues, and histories of drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse and childhood neglect (Kenny et, al. cited in AIHW, 2010: 90).

In 2009/10, on an average day 0.21 per cent of the 10–17 year olds in NSW were under a community based supervision order (2.1 in every 1,000 10–17 year olds). This compares with 0.22 per cent in this age group Australia wide (2.2 in every 1,000) (Figure 7.17) (Table A7.21 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.17: Children aged 10–17 years under community based supervision by year, NSW & Australia, 2005/06 to 2009/10

Notes: Number of young people on an average day may not sum to total due to rounding. Total includes young people of unknown sex and Aboriginal identity. Age was calculated as at the start of the financial year if the first period of community based supervision began before the start of the financial year, otherwise age was calculated as at the start of first period of community based supervision. Rates are number of young people per 1,000 relevant population.

Source: Juvenile Justice in Australia 2008/09. AIHW (Table A7.21 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

When sex, Aboriginal identity, socioeconomic disadvantage, and remoteness are considered, on an average day the rate of children in NSW under community based supervision was:

  • 4.3 times higher for male children compared with female children (3.42 per 1,000 males and 0.79 per 1,000 females).
  • 15.0 times higher for Aboriginal children compared with non-Aboriginal children (18.36 per 1,000 Aboriginal children and 1.22 per 1,000 non-Aboriginal children).
  • 4.5 times higher for children living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged area[30] compared with those living in the least disadvantaged area (4.59 per 1,000 children living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged area and 1.0 per 1,000 children living in the least socioeconomically disadvantaged area).
  • 11.4 times higher for children living in very remote areas compared with children living in major cities (18.73 per 1,000 children living in very remote areas and 1.64 per 1,000 children living in major cities) (Table A7.22 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Community based orders can be either supervised by Juvenile Justice or be unsupervised. In 2009, approximately 14 per cent of the principal penalties imposed by criminal courts for 10–17 year olds were for unsupervised orders, 93.6 per cent related to bonds.

Over the five year period from 2005/06 to 2009/10 the rate of children under a community based supervision order, on an average day, increased from 1.51 to 2.14 in every 1,000 children aged 10–17 years (Figure 7.17) (Table A7.21 (XLSX 293.2KB)). This increase was 50 per cent more than that seen nationally.

Sentenced detention

Results from JJ NMDS

As noted earlier in the section ‘Remand (pre-sentence bail) and unsentenced detention’, on any given day in 2009/10 there were an average of 371 children aged 10–17 years in juvenile detention[31], and 45.0 per cent of these children were in sentenced detention.

When sex, age and Aboriginal identity are considered, on an average day the rate of children in sentenced detention in 2009–2010 was:

  • 13.3 times higher for 15–17 year olds compared with 10–14 year olds (0.53 per 1,000 15–17 year olds and 0.04 per 1,000 10–14 year olds).
  • 14.0 times higher for male children compared with female children (0.42 per 1,000 males and 0.03 per 1,000 females) (Table A7.23 (XLSX 293.2KB)).
  • 28.5 times higher for Aboriginal children compared with non-Aboriginal children (3.14 per 1,000 Aboriginal children and 0.11 per 1,000 non-Aboriginal children) (Table A7.24 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In 2009/10, the geographic areas in NSW with the highest rate of children in sentenced detention on an average day were the Far West (2.12 children in every 1,000), and the North Western areas (1.47 children in every 1,000) (Figure 7.18) (Table A7.18 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Within the Sydney region the areas with the highest rate of children in sentenced detention on an average day were the Eastern Suburbs (0.41 per 1,000 children), Inner Sydney (0.32 per 1,000), Blacktown (0.28 per 1,000), and Outer South Western Sydney (0.28 per 1,000) (Table A7.18 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.18: Children aged 10–17 years in sentenced detention by Statistical Divisions, NSW, 2009/10

Notes: Young people with an unknown or invalid postcode are excluded. Population for the 2009–2010 financial year is the unweighted mean of the populations in 2009 and 2010.

Source: NSW Commission for Children and Young People calculations based on Juvenile Justice National Minimum Data Set and ABS Estimated Residential Population (2009 and 2010) (Table A7.18 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Over the five year period from 2005/06 to 2009/10 the rate of children in sentenced detention on an average day has steadily increased from 0.15 per 1,000 children aged 10–17 years in 2005/06 to 0.23 per 1,000 in 2009/10 (Table A7.24 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

The proportion of children in detention who were in sentenced detention has varied over this period between a low of 38.6 per cent in 2007/08 and a high of 45.0 per cent in 2005/06 (Figure 7.16) (Table A7.24 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In 2009/10, the median length of stay for a child or young person in sentenced detention in NSW was 60 days.[32] This compares with 54 days Australia wide (Table A7.20 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

In 2009, the YPICHS found that young people in custody have significant health problems including high rates of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and other risk taking behaviours (Indig et al, 2011):

  • 45.8 per cent had an extremely low or borderline IQ.
    • Aboriginal young people were more likely to be in this category compared with non-Aboriginal young people (58.8% and 32.7%). There was no statistical difference between male children and female children.
  • 86.7 per cent had a psychological disorder.
    • Female young people were more likely to have had an anxiety disorder, mood disorder, have engaged in self-harm, or ever attempted suicide compared with male young people.
    • Aboriginal young people were more likely to have had attention or behavioural disorders compared with non-Aboriginal children (75.0% and 64.7%).
  • 59.9 per cent had childhood abuse and trauma.
    • Female young people were more likely to have experienced this compared with male young people (80.5% and 56.8%).
  • 44.6 per cent have had a parent in prison.
    • Aboriginal young people were more likely to have had a parent detained compared with non-Aboriginal young people (61.1% and 29.5%).
  • 6.1 per cent had been homeless prior to custody.
    • Female young people were more likely to have been homeless prior to detention compared with male young people (17.5% and 4.4%).
  • 27.2 per cent had been in care before they were aged 16 years.
    • Female young people were more likely to have been in care compared with male young people (40.0% and 25.4%).
    • Aboriginal young people were more likely to have been in care compared with non-Aboriginal young people (38.3% and 17.2%).
  • 22.1 per cent had a disability or illness that bothered them for more than six months.
    • Female young people were more likely to have experienced this compared with male young people (35.0% and 20.2%).
  • The average school leaving age was 14.4 years.
The NSW 2021 – A Plan to Make NSW Number One (NSW Government, 2011) sets a target to increase the number of adolescents (and adults) with mental illness who are diverted from court into treatment.

Reoffending

Reoffending by juveniles is a critical issue, and an important issue for government policy, communities, offenders and victims (Holmes, 2011). The NSW 2021 – A Plan to Make NSW Number One (NSW Government, 2011) sets a target to reduce juvenile (and adult) reoffending by five per cent by 2016.

Measures of reoffending can be problematic, inaccurate or misleading. Reasons for this include the accuracy of officially recorded data, the fact that not all crime is recorded, and offending levels may simply reflect shifts in policy or procedure rather than actual levels of offending. When the characteristics of juvenile offending are considered, additional problems arise. In a recent paper on the measurement of recidivism in Australia these are summarised to include: some offences where juveniles are disproportionately involved, such as motor vehicle theft, have high reporting rates due to insurance requirements; some behaviours are illegal only because of the minority status of the person, such as underage drinking; and legislative, policy or practice changes can impact more on juveniles than adults and increase their contact with the police, such as the ‘move on’ powers of police (Richards, 2011a).

The NSW Reoffending Database (ROD) provides the best source of information on reoffending by children aged 10–17 years in NSW.

The ROD is an administrative database maintained by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. It contains information on each person who has had a finalised criminal court appearance in the Children’s, Local, District and Supreme Courts of NSW since 1994. The data captured in ROD cannot be used to determine reoffending per se, however it is able to indicate the number of people who reappear before the criminal justice system for an offence, as well as the number who are reconvicted (that is, people who have been convicted of an offence who go on to be convicted of a further offence). Further, it allows the examination of reoffending rates between groups, or within a group over time, and to identify factors associated with more frequent or persistent offending (Weatherburn et.al., 2003).

The ROD, as with any collection, is subject to error. Limitations of this collection include item non-response, transcription errors, and clerical and editing errors and the reader should keep this in mind when interpreting the data. Furthermore, persons who have had prior proven offences are at the highest recidivism risk. In interpreting the data it is important to be aware that while the ‘ideal’ recidivism rate is zero, the knowledge we have about the ‘crime prone’ teenage years renders this unrealistic (Wooldredge cited in Richards 2011b:9). More information is in Appendix 1: Key survey sources and data reports.

In 1994, over 8,450 children aged 10–17 years were convicted of at least one offence in a NSW court. A very high proportion of these children, almost 80 per cent (79.4% or 6,711 children), were reconvicted within the next 15 years. This compares with 57.0 per cent of adult offenders (Figure 7.19) (Table A7.26 (XLSX 293.2KB)). Previous research suggests that a high proportion of juveniles making their first appearance in a Children’s Court continue their offending into adulthood (Chen et al, 2005). Research undertaken following the introduction of the Young Offenders Act 1997 suggests that future contact with the criminal justice system is less common among children who participate in diversionary alternatives. This was ‘particularly true for offenders who are older at their first caution or conference, female offenders and non-Indigenous offenders’ (Vignaendra and Fitzgerald, 2006:13).

Most 10–17 year olds convicted of a further offence were convicted within a few years of their 1994 offence:

  • 40 per cent were convicted of a further offence within 1 year.
  • 54.7 per cent within 2 years.
  • 62.0 per cent within 3 years.
  • Beyond 3 years, as each year passed, fewer and fewer children who were convicted in 1994 were reconvicted.

While the above indicates that there is a high reconviction rate for children aged 10–17 years, it is generally agreed that offending peaks in late adolescence (around 18–19 years of age) and declines in early adulthood (Richards, 2011b).

Figure 7.19: Cumulative percentage of children aged 10–17 years reconvicted each year, NSW, 1994–2009

Source: NSW Reoffending Database, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.26 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Reconviction (within 15 years) was highest among children who in 1994 were convicted of:

  • Break and enter (84.6% of children convicted in 1994 for break and enter were reconvicted for another offence).
  • Offences against justice procedures, government security and operations (83.9% of children convicted in 1994 for this offence were reconvicted).
  • Public order offences (82.4% of children convicted in 1994 for this offence were reconvicted).
  • Property damage (82.4% of children convicted in 1994 for this offence were reconvicted).
  • Robbery (82.2% of children convicted in 1994 for this offence were reconvicted).
  • Assault (81.1% of children convicted in 1994 for this offence were reconvicted) (Figure 7.20) (Table A7.27 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.20: Children aged 10–17 years reconvicted of any offence within 15 years by original offence type, NSW, 1994–2009

Note: Only offence categories where there were 100 offenders or more convicted in 1994 are included in this figure.

Source: NSW Reoffending Database, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.27 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

For offenders aged 10–17 years in 1994, almost half (47.0%) were reconvicted of the same offence. More than half were reconvicted of the same offence for:

  • Offences against justice procedures, government security and operations (58.5%).
  • Theft and related offences (54.6%).
  • Assault (54.1%).
  • Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences (52.4%).
  • Public order offences (50.7%) (Figure 7.21) (Table A7.28 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Figure 7.21: Children aged 10–17 years reconvicted of the same offence within 15 years by original offence type, NSW, 1994–2009

Note: Only offence categories where there were 100 offenders or more convicted in 1994 are included in this figure.

Source: NSW Reoffending Database, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Table A7.28 (XLSX 293.2KB)).

Recent information on the reoffending of children aged 10–17 years in NSW is available from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Holmes, 2011).

References

ABS. (2008). Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) - 2006. Cat. No. 2039.0.55.001. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

ABS. (2010). Recorded crime—offenders, Australia, 2008–09. Cat. No. 4519.0. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

ABS. (2011). Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ANZSOC). Cat. No.1234.0. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

AIHW. (2010). Health and well-being of young Australians: technical paper on operational definitions and data issues for key national indicators. AIHW Cat. No. WP 63. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

AIHW. (2011). Juvenile justice in Australia 2008–09. Juvenile justice series No. 7. Cat. No. JUV 7. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

CCYP. (2011). Submission to the NSW Law Reform Commission’s 2011 review of the law of bail. Sydney: NSW Commission for Children and Young people.

Chen, S., Matruglio, T., Weatherburn, D., & Hua, J. (2005). The Transition from Juvenile to Adult Criminal Careers, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Crime and Justice Bulletin No 86.

Holmes, J. (2011). Re-offending in NSW. Crime and Justice Statistics No. 56. Sydney: Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Indig, D., Vecchiato, C., Haysom, L., Beilby, R., Carter, J., Champion, U., Gaskin, C., Heller, E., Kumar, S., Mamone, N., Muir, P., van den Dolder, P. & Whitton, G. (2011). 2009 NSW Young People in Custody Health Survey: Full Report. Justice Health and Juvenile Justice. Sydney.

Richards, K. (2011a). What makes juvenile offenders different from adult offenders? Trends & Issues in crime and criminal justice Australian Institute of Criminology: Australia No. 409 February 2011.

Richards, K. (2011b). Technical and background paper: Measuring juvenile recidivism in Australia. AIC Reports Paper 44.

NSW Government. (2011). The NSW 2021 – A Plan to Make NSW Number One. Sydney: NSW.

UN General Assembly. (1985). United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules): resolution / adopted by the General Assembly., 29 November 1985, A/RES/40/33.

Vignaendra, S., & Fitzgerald, J. (2006). Reoffending among young people cautioned by police or who participated in a youth justice conference, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Crime and Justice Bulletin No 103.

Weatherburn, D., Lind, B., & Hua, J. (2003). Contact with the New South Wales court and prison systems: The influence of age, Indigenous status and gender. Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice No. 78.

[1]A criminal incident is defined as an activity detected by or reported to police which: involved the same offender(s); involved the same victim(s); occurred at the one location; occurred during one uninterrupted period of time; falls into one offence category; and falls into one incident type (for example, ‘actual’, ‘attempted’, ‘conspiracy’). Police action can include proceeding against an alleged offender to court, or diverting them away from the court, such as issuing a caution, infringement notice or Youth Justice Conference. Excluded are warnings.
[2]Excludes warnings given by police. In 2009–2010 police gave 5,030 warnings to 10–17 year olds.
[3]A principal penalty is the most serious penalty imposed on the child by the court.
[4]Certain socioeconomic characteristics of a geographic area can be used to determine its socioeconomic disadvantage (ABS, 2008). Areas can be ranked and then grouped according to their socioeconomic disadvantage. Five groups are reported. The least disadvantaged areas are in the first group and the most disadvantaged areas are in the fifth group.
[5]Unsentenced detention refers to children aged 10–17 years who have not been sentenced, regardless of whether they have been placed in detention following a police referral or a court referral (remand).
[6]Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987, s5.
[7]As at 27/10/2011, travelling without a valid ticket incurred an on the spot fine of $200 (www.cityrail.info/travelling_with/conditions_of_travel/fines).
[8]Information provided by NSW Police, COPS (extracted 25 October 2011).
[9]In 2009–2010 COPS recorded 18,520 driving offences by children aged 10–17 years.
[10]In 2009–2010 there were 5,030 warnings given to children aged 10–17 years under the Young Offenders Act 1997.
[11]Information provided by the Bureau of Crime Statistics, May 2011.
[12]A criminal incident is defined as an activity detected by or reported to police which: involved the same offender(s); involved the same victim(s); occurred at the one location; occurred during one uninterrupted period of time; falls into one offence category; and falls into one incident type (for example, ‘actual’, ‘attempted’, ‘conspiracy’). Police action can include proceeding against an alleged offender to court, or diverting them away from the court, such as issuing a caution, infringement notice or Youth Justice Conference. Excluded are warnings.
[13] Information provided by NSW Police, COPS (extracted 25 October 2011).
[14]In 2009–2010 COPS recorded 18,520 driving offences by children aged 10–17 years.
[15] In 2009–2010 there were 5,030 warnings given to children aged 10–17 years under the Young Offenders Act 1997.
[16]Information provided by the Bureau of Crime Statistics, May 2011.
[17]The offence categories reported are derived from COPS incident types and align to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Offence Classification (ABS, 2011).
[18]Information provided by NSW Police, COPS (extracted 25 October 2011).
[19]In 2009–2010 COPS recorded 18,520 driving offences by children aged 10–17 years.
[20]In 2009–2010 there were 5,030 warnings given to children aged 10–17 years under the Young Offenders Act 1997.
[21]Information provided by the Bureau of Crime Statistics, May 2011.
[22] Inner Sydney + Eastern Suburbs + St. George–Sutherland + Canterbury–Bankstown + Fairfield–Liverpool + Outer South Western Sydney + Inner Western Sydney + Central Western Sydney + Outer Western Sydney + Blacktown + Lower Northern Sydney + Central Northern Sydney
[23] Inner Sydney + Eastern Suburbs + St. George–Sutherland + Canterbury–Bankstown + Fairfield–Liverpool + Outer South Western Sydney + Inner Western Sydney + Central Western Sydney + Outer Western Sydney + Blacktown + Lower Northern Sydney + Central Northern Sydney
[24] Inner Sydney + Eastern Suburbs + St. George–Sutherland + Canterbury–Bankstown + Fairfield–Liverpool + Outer South Western Sydney + Inner Western Sydney + Central Western Sydney + Outer Western Sydney + Blacktown + Lower Northern Sydney + Central Northern Sydney
[25] Inner Sydney + Eastern Suburbs + St. George–Sutherland + Canterbury–Bankstown + Fairfield–Liverpool + Outer South Western Sydney + Inner Western Sydney + Central Western Sydney + Outer Western Sydney + Blacktown + Lower Northern Sydney + Central Northern Sydney
[26]Information provided by NSW Police, COPS (extracted 25 October 2011).
[27] If one child has more than one charge in an offence category group, this child will be counted only once in the total for that offence group - the most serious offence or principal offence is reported here.
[28]A further 212 children who were in custody for a prior offence at the time of their bail application were refused bail.
[29]Unsentenced detention refers to all young people who have not been sentenced, regardless of whether they have been placed in detention following a police referral or a court referral (remand).
[30]Certain socioeconomic characteristics of a geographic area can be used to determine its socioeconomic disadvantage (ABS, 2008). Areas can be ranked and then grouped according to their socioeconomic disadvantage. Five groups are reported. The least disadvantaged areas are in the first group and the most disadvantaged areas are in the fifth group.
[31]This included children in sentenced and unsentenced detention. In addition, there were 55 young people aged 18 years in detention on any given day in 2008/09.
[32] These figures include young people aged 18 years and over.