Youth Justice – Getting it Right

  • The publication of children’s names and photographs reaffirms the importance of the Royal Commission’s work
  • Children are not “little adults” and require different approaches to adults in the justice system
  • Rehabilitation is essential

– by Peter Murphy


The recent revelation by the ABC that the Northern Territory (NT) Police publicly posted pictures, and names, of two boys aged 11 and 14 demonstrates the importance of the work of the current Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.[1] The Royal Commission will now not report until November 2017. The NT government has stated it will undertake a review of the Youth Justice Act after the findings are handed down. The fact that the NT’s legislation allows the publication of children’s details means it will be important for the Royal Commissioners to look at the very basis of the NT approach to youth justice.

In 2010 Noetic undertook a Strategic Review of Juvenile Justice for the New South Wales Minister for Juvenile Justice.[2] The Review posed two key questions for those considering the future of juvenile justice legislation and practice in the state. Those two questions remain applicable to any jurisdiction when considering how to frame an approach to children and young people:

Are children and young people important, and if so, are they different to adults?

While it is axiomatic that children are important, it is essential to understand that they are not ‘little adults’; they are developing emotionally, mentally and physically, and learning to become adults. This means they need to be treated differently to adults. Consequently, the same approaches that are applied to adults by police (such as the naming and shaming reported by the ABC), the judiciary and corrective services are not appropriate for children and young people.

A key factor in youth justice is rehabilitation. The majority of jurisdictions state that rehabilitation is core to their approach, and this is vital for children and young people. Effective approaches to rehabilitation start with programs that identify those at risk, place services around them, and divert them before they get into trouble. Should a child or young person end up in detention, it is vital to work closely with them to keep them engaged in education, or prepare them for the workforce.

This proven approach needs to be incorporated into the Royal Commission’s recommendations. However, removing the ability to name and shame children and young people from the NT’s legislation should not wait for the Royal Commission’s findings – it should be an immediate first step.