The custodial remand of young people has recently emerged as a key issue for youth justice in Australia, due primarily to concerns about perceived increases in young people on custodial remand. Richards and Renshaw’s (2013) national study of remand for young people found that a diverse range of factors have influenced rates of remand, including the increasingly complex needs of young offenders, police performance measures, and the influence of victims’ rights.
Minimising the unnecessary use of custodial remand for young people is important, as Australia has obligations under several United Nations instruments (eg the Convention on the rights of the child (United Nations 1989)) to use detention of any kind only as a last resort for young people. Further, every jurisdiction except Queensland has legislation in place that provides that young people should only be detained as a last resort.
Impacts of custodial remand on young people
Research clearly documents that custodial remand has numerous adverse impacts on young people, including:
- separation from family and community;
- disruption to education and employment;
- association with sentenced young offenders;
- lack of access to programs to address criminogenic needs;
- increasing the likelihood of being remanded in the future; and
- being more likely to be sentenced to custody (see Richards & Renshaw 2013 for an overview).
Custodial remand is very costly, and there is little research to suggest that it increases community safety (Richards & Renshaw 2013).
Trends in the custodial remand of young people in Queensland
Approximately half (51%) of young people in detention in Australia are on custodial remand (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW] 2013). Queensland has the highest proportion of youth detainees on remand, at 72 percent (AIHW 2013; Shanahan 2014). Further, Queensland is the only jurisdiction that has recently experienced a substantial increase in the number and rate of young people on custodial remand (AIHW 2013). The rate of Indigenous over-representation among young people on remand has also recently increased in Queensland (and Western Australia) (AIHW 2013).
In summary, while most other jurisdictions are experiencing decreases in the use of custodial remand for young people, the opposite has occurred in Queensland.
Bail support programs
Supporting young people to complete bail orders can play an important role in reducing rates of custodial remand. A number of bail support programs are currently in operation in Queensland, including:
- Conditional Bail Program
- Youth Bail Accommodation Support Service
- Mt Isa Bail Support Program
- Atherton Youth Bail Support Service
These programs seek to support young people to comply with their bail conditions and/or provide courts with supported accommodation alternatives to remanding young people in custody.
There have been few evaluations of bail support programs for young people in Australia, and little information published about the scope or effectiveness of the above programs.
The way forward
Richards and Renshaw’s (2013) national research project on remand for young people made wide-ranging recommendations for reducing the unnecessary or inappropriate use of custodial remand for young people, including:
- Enhancing the access to bail of young people in regional areas and young people with complex needs;
- Providing enhanced support for young people with complex needs;
- Ensuring that referrals to bail support are available to all bail decision-makers (not only courts); and
- Evaluating and monitoring the effectiveness of bail support programs, including those that operate outside of business hours.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2013. Youth detention population in Australia 2013. Canberra: AIHW
Richards K & Renshaw L 2013. Bail and remand for young people in Australia: A national research project. Research and Public Policy series no. 125. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology
Shanahan M 2014. Childrens Court of Queensland Annual Report 2013-2014. Brisbane: Childrens Court of Queensland
United Nations 1989. Convention on the rights of the child. Adopted by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989