The NSW Attorney General’s Department has undertaken a statutory review of the Young Offenders Act 1997(NSW), which is required to be reviewed every three years. This report brings together the findings of an interim report of a study by the University of New South Wales; a re-offending study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR); and the issues raised by individuals and organisations in submissions received by the Department in relation to the review. The University of New South Wales study into the implementation and outcomes of the Act has found, among other things, that the introduction of the Act has led to an increase in the use of warnings and cautions in dealing with young offenders and a corresponding decline in the use of court proceedings; Aboriginal young people are more likely to be taken to court and less likely to be cautioned, but equally like to be given warnings or referred to conferences, than non-ATSI young people; young women were more likely to be cautioned or given warnings than young men, but less likely to be referred to court or conference; and the majority of caution and conference participants were satisfied with the way their case was dealt with. The interim report highlighted a number of difficulties in implementing the Act, and identified possible areas for reform. The re-offending study by BOCSAR demonstrates that youth justice conferences are an effective way of reducing juvenile crime. The risk of re-offending and the rate of reappearances per year was 15-20% lower for juvenile offenders who were conferenced than for those who went to court; while of the juvenile offenders who re-offended, those who were conferenced had a greater crime-free period than those who went to court. Public submissions relating to the Act strongly supported the use of alternative processes to court proceedings for dealing with young offenders. Submissions identified a number of benefits arising from the diversion of young offenders, and a number of stakeholders supported an expansion of the range of offences covered by the Act. Key concerns raised in a number of submissions were the entitlement of young offenders to obtain legal advice before making admissions, and the rate of diversion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. In view of the findings detailed in the interim report from the University of New South Wales study, the BOCSAR study and the comments provided in the public submissions, the review concludes that the objectives of the Act remain valid. However, some recommendations are made regarding the terms of the Act to ensure that they remain appropriate for securing those objectives.
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