LNP REFORMS TO JUVENILE JUSTICE
“In the little world in which children have their existence… there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.” (Charles Dickens)
Today, the LNP government introduced into parliament the “Youth Justice and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014”. The Bill proposes significant changes to the way in which the courts and our community treat children. Among the proposed law reforms include the removal of imprisonment as a last resort and secondly, the removal of prohibitions on the publication of child offenders (a green light for “naming and shaming” kids). The Bill has been referred to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee for consideration.
Children occupy a very vulnerable space in our society. It is important that people speak out on their behalf. They are often voiceless, and even invisible, when arguments are fought over them. This Bill will greatly affect how the courts sentence young people and how the community treats children upon conviction.
Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a party, states that “the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;…”. The LNP government seeks to remove this provision from Queensland’s law with the effect that more and more children will be sent to jail. This is not an appropriate solution to bigger societal problems.
Jails are terrible places for adults. For children, they are even worse. The idea of going direct to jail is narrow minded. The Queensland Court of Appeal has, for a long time, recognised that jail is unlikely to have any rehabilitative effect and is in fact harmful in that it introduces young people to hardened criminals whom they might not otherwise meet and to hard drugs and it may subject them to the risk of injury or degrading conduct (R v Hamilton  QCA 286).
Naming and shaming children is similarly a poor response to a perceived problem with youth crime. Since the 1960’s we have known about the ‘labelling theory’; that is the theory of how the self-identity and behaviour of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. It is associated with the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping. In short, if you label a child a criminal, they are more likely to act as one. Furthermore, a criminal label does irreparable harm to a young person’s reputation where they may be seeking to move forward from a negative experience. Their prospects of gaining a job or gaining entry into uni or TAFE is lessened. The situation is even worse if they have been imprisoned for any period of time. The black mark against their name inhibits rehabilitation and does nothing to reduce the risk of them committing further offences.
The Government’s ‘tough on crime’ attitude has been well documented. However, these laws should not be passed.