Skip navigation

Media Release: Harsher penalties for children undermines efforts to keep Queensland communities safe

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 8 July 2024

The Queensland Opposition’s plans to introduce ‘adult crime, adult time’ penalties for children are out of step with priorities to reduce crime and reoffending. Such measures will instead serve to pull children deeper into the criminal justice system, without making the community any safer.

While the ‘Making Our Community Safer’ plan announced by Opposition Leader David Crisafulli on Sunday includes a welcome commitment to boost post-release care for children leaving youth detention, introducing harsher penalties under the same banner undermines those efforts – instead doubling down on punitive measures that are proven to make crime more likely, not less.

The Justice Reform Initiative’s Executive Director Dr Mindy Sotiri said the two policy ideas were at odds and needed to be treated separately in order to engage fully with the evidence about what actually works to support community safety and prevent reoffending.

“Harsher penalties for children packaged under a catchy slogan might work for political point-scoring, but it has simply never worked to prevent crime or keep the community safe. It instead achieves the opposite,” Dr Sotiri said.

“Children and young people are still developing neurologically. The evidence is very clear that children rarely stop to weigh up the consequences of their actions before making decisions. Decades of evidence show us that threatening harsher penalties in this way doesn’t work as a deterrent.

“Treating children as adults in the criminal justice system will lead to more crime, not less, and will serve to increase the likelihood of entrenched criminal justice system involvement and adult imprisonment.”

“We’ve seen this ‘tough on crime’ approach repeatedly fail in Queensland.

“We all want the community to be safe, and we all want crime to be reduced, but all sides of politics in Queensland need to avoid making policy announcements that aren't based in the evidence about what actually works to achieve that.”

Queensland already locks up more children than anywhere else in Australia, a punitive system that is overflowing into adult watchhouses and costing Queensland taxpayers over $218 million per year.

“It is not about discounting the consequences of crime, but simply ensuring children have access to the right support within their community to address the drivers of crime and break the cycle,” Dr Sotiri said.

“Deepening a child’s involvement with the system by dishing out harsher penalties means they are more likely to lose their community connections and opportunities to change trajectory, making reoffending much more likely.

“The Making Our Community Safer plan’s commitment to 12 months of post-release care for every child leaving detention is a step forward in breaking this cycle, but we cannot couple this with policies that take those opportunities away. Queensland’s community sector needs substantial support and investment to scale the many proven programs and services that work together to change the trajectory for these children.

“We urge the Queensland Opposition to shift their focus, to follow the evidence and ensure crimes committed by children do not lead to a lifetime cycle of imprisonment as adults at the expense of taxpayers, and community safety.”

Media contact: Amy Price, 0437 027 156


The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.

Continue Reading

Read More