When a person confesses to a crime or the court finds that he or she did the crime he or she is sentenced. The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that there should be alternatives to putting children and young people in detention centres (prisons) and that children and young people should only be sentenced to detention as a last resort. Children and young people should also have a say in any decision about punishment that affects them.
Most courts recognise these principles and have sentencing options. The most severe option in Australia is a detention order, where a child or young person is imprisoned, usually in a special centre for juvenile offenders. Other sentences include fines, bonds, community service work or probation.
When sentencing a child or young person, the court may ask for information about his or her background and character. This information may influence the sentence received.
Issue 20: We would like to hear any comments you may have about the sentencing process.
Children in detention
International laws set standards for how children and young people are to be treated in detention centres. These include proper accommodation, medical care, education, training and recreation and freedom to practise religion.
Detention centres often have their own rules. Often the manager or principal will decide how to deal with someone who breaks the rules. There are currently no procedures to ensure that children have a say or are represented in these disciplinary procedures.
Some programs such as parole, help children and young people return to the community after being in detention. These programs are important to help the child or young person avoid committing another crime.
Aboriginal children and young people are greatly over-represented in detention. Young people of some non-English speaking backgrounds also make up a large number in detention. Some detention centres do not have specific programs to deal with the needs and problems of children and young people from other cultures, such as language, learning difficulties and racism.
Other options for punishment
When a young person is found guilty of a crime he or she may be given punishments other than detention, such as
- a community based order where the young person spends an amount of time doing community work
- a period of parole after detention, which is a period of supervision in the community
- probation, which is an order for supervision in the community without a period of detention.
Issue 21: We would like to hear any comments you may have about children and young people in detention or about other forms of punishment.