Queensland children on bail committed more crimes, and more serious crimes, after the state passed tougher youth justice laws, a review has found.
The laws put in place in April 2021 removed the presumption of bail for children caught committing serious offences while on conditional release and allowed courts to fit them with GPS trackers.
The state government has said its crackdown is aimed at 400 serious, repeat offenders, most of whom are Indigenous children.
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A review, led by former police commissioner Bob Atkinson, was released on Tuesday night.
It found that children on bail committed more serious crimes, and more kids were refused bail, in the six months after the laws passed compared with the same period in 2019.
“The volume of offending by young people while subject to bail has increased as has offending categorised as serious,” the report said.
“Remand numbers have increased by 6 per cent, equating to an increase of 40 distinct young people over the six-month period under examination.”
The review found a smaller number of individual children were sentenced to detention, but children spent longer behind bars.
Atkinson called for the laws to remain in place regardless of the findings because the community supports them.
“With no disrespect to academic research, none whatsoever, I think the jury was well and truly still out on this,” he said on Wednesday.
“And I think if the public is supportive, and the police have been responsible, then I think it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”
Lawyers raised concerns, since the laws were passed, some children were pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit or where evidence was inadequate, the report said.
They also warned children may have been imprisoned for first-time, low-level offences “unlikely to warrant a detention order”.
“These claims cannot be fully substantiated with data, but data sourced for this review shows the length of time young people spend in watchhouses and on remand has increased since the reforms commenced,” Atkinson said.
“There were concerns that the provisions designed to target serious, repeat youth offenders may be capturing first-time offenders and children who would not fall into the serious repeat-offender category.”
‘Lack of consequences’
Some respondents suggested some prosecutors “appeared to be taking a more punitive approach to all young people appearing before the courts, rather than focussing on serious repeat offenders”.
Meanwhile, the prosecutors surveyed spoke about “a perceived lack of consequences” for child offenders who breached bail curfews.
The number of Indigenous children in prison fell, the report said, but a higher proportion of them were being punished under the laws than other juvenile cohorts.
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