Considered ‘children’ in every aspect of life except criminal proceedings, there is new hope for seventeen year olds facing the justice system. Still not old enough to vote, drink alcohol or sign a contract, in Queensland seventeen year old offenders continue to be tried, convicted and imprisoned as adults.
Last week the Queensland Law Society once again called on the State Government to implement a change to these laws. This most recent plea came in light of the exposure of the harsh summary punishment that a seventeen year old inmate suffered at the hands of guards at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Facility in 2013. A long held belief by the Law Society and supported by the legal community is that putting seventeen year olds in prison does more harm than good, with no evidence that there is any benefit to it, and a proven reduction in rehabilitation chance.
This week came the news that Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will implement changes to the legislation. Queensland is the last state in the Country that continues to try seventeen year olds as adults, but in 12 months and with new legislation, the law will finally be in line with the rest of Australia.
Currently there are 48 seventeen year old’s in prisons across the state, and another 200 on community orders overseen by Queensland protective services, but the legislative change is unlikely to help those who are currently in custody. This reform would keep seventeen year olds as a part of the Youth Justice system, but before the law comes into effect, a number of changes need to occur. Because of the sheer number of seventeen year old offenders that would require either detention or supervision, and with youth detention centres having children as young as 10 housed in them, it may require a new facility to be built in order to prevent the oldest inmates from mixing with the youngest.
Although seventeen year olds will continue to be tried as adults until such time as the law passes, the Premier and Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath have given a commitment to look into what changes may be possible within the system on an interim basis to improve the situation of the seventeen year olds still in prison.
While 17 year olds have not yet been transferred out adult prisons, legal practitioners and relevant community groups anticipating these changes will be implemented shortly.
If you have any questions on these amendments or need legal advice relating to a youth, please contact our office and arrange to speak to one of our solicitors.