It is reported that Attorney-General John Rau has announced new laws are to be introduced to sentence juveniles as adults for serious offending. These changes will be soon introduced to State Parliament and could be passed through the Lower House in late September.
Mr Rau said “the current arrangement, where juveniles can be tried in adult courts but still be sentenced as youths, needed to change and come into line with mainstream public opinion.”
The current law provides that sentencing in the Youth Court focuses on deterring that particular youth with a focus on rehabilitation.
The current law also provides for a youth to be dealt with in the same way as an adult when a grave offence is committed or when an offence is part of a pattern of repeated offending.
If either of those criteria are satisfied a youth can be dealt with in an adult Court.
If a youth is sentenced by an adult Court, the current law requires the sentence to have a deterrent effect on the youth and a deterrent effect on other youths and to strike a balance between the protection of the community and the need to rehabilitate the youth.
When adults are sentenced the protection of the community is paramount. The sentence is required to have both a deterrent effect on the adult and a deterrent effect on the general community. The requirement for general deterrence generally results in a harsher sentence.
Mr Rau apparently intends to depart from the focus on rehabilitation promoted by the current law to “come into line with mainstream public opinion.”
Does this lead young offenders to a career in crime?
The intent of running parallel systems for youth and adult offenders is to provide the opportunity for young offenders to choose a more positive path in life.
We at Williams recognise that where “grave offences” are committed, the public focus is on the tragic results and in the short term, on calls for retribution. Policy changes made on the run and on the basis of “mainstream public opinion” may not do our community good service in the long term.
Concerns are raised by others that longer sentences may seem appropriate at the time but may have longer term consequences. Without appropriate intervention and support this could mean that children are propelled into a life of crime.
Tony Rossi, President of the Law Society of SA is quoted in the ABC making the following point.
“By placing that child in a prison environment for a long period of time, you run the risk that the skills that are then learnt by that child (are) perhaps tending towards more criminality rather than a successful, contribution member of the community.”
He urges that the State Government keep rehabilitation and intervention as a primary objective in the sentencing of young criminals. We at Williams agree. Call us on 08 84519040