Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie today announced new laws to be introduced into Parliament as early as next year, allowing child offenders aged 10 to 16 to be given one chance before being named and shamed.

David Murray of The-Courier Mail mentions in his article that to date only the Northern Territory has taken the approach of naming offenders and that this approach will make Queensland one of the “country’s harshest youth justice system(s)”.  Previously naming of offenders only occurred with three juvenile offenders who were found to be convicted killers.

In the article David Murray writes that the Minister said 400 youths over the past year committed 7,000 crimes and that the previous government only offered a ‘slap-on-the-wrist’ approach leaving a generation of “arrogant recidivist young offenders”.  An argument presented in the article by opponents to the laws is that it might create a situation where youths commit crimes for notoriety and to have it as a “badge of honour”.

Brittany White, a former government prosecutor and experienced criminal lawyer at Quinn & Scattini, explains her concern with a ‘government of the day’ proceeding ahead with populist law and the potential implications.

“A great deal of research has found that adolescents are characterised as impulsive, essentially lacking cognitive control, with propensity to participate in risk taking behaviour.

An academic article was published by Casey, Getz and Galvin (2008) which presented research showing that “adolescents engage in behaviours that increase the likelihood of death or illness by driving a vehicle after drinking or without a seat belt, carrying weapons, using illegal substances and engaging in unprotected sex resulting in unintended pregnancies and STDs, including HIV infection”.

It has been apparent to me working both as a solicitor and as a government prosecutor that many adolescents do engage in such risky behaviours.  The academic article goes some way to explain why this takes place because “impulsive/cognition control, risk-taking appears to increase during adolescence relative to childhood and adulthood and is associated with subcortical systems known to be involved in evaluation of rewards”.

Adolescents as presented in the academic article are susceptible to interference from various sources, which need to be suppressed.   Instead, as the article states, we should be looking at offering compelling incentives where inappropriate thoughts and actions can be suppressed in favour of goal-orientated actions.

The Government should not be naming and shaming young offenders as we risk stigmatising these young offenders, impacting on their ability to be employed at later stages of their lives, and accordingly increasing the odds of their re-offending.  “Being named and shamed” in the criminal justice system is a punishment which might not be fully appreciated by many adolescents as they are not always aware of, or appreciative at the time as to how this would impact on their future employability in life.

I am of the view that this is merely a populist law and though I know there would be legitimate concern amongst the community about offenders not being adequately punished this law would treat punishment in an overly simplistic manner.

Stigmatising the offenders can create a situation where adolescents become more reckless or engage in potentially self-destructive behaviour as they may feel that by being “named and shamed” they have nothing left to lose.

The study defines rewards based systems providing positive reinforcement for adolescents in circumstances where they refrain from engaging in antisocial behaviour.   Instead of focusing on punitive justice Courts should take an approach focusing on rehabilitation of adolescent offenders.

Adolescent offenders have the best chances of changing their behaviours if they are given assistance for positive self-development.  Politicians should be discussing rehabilitation of youthful offenders and what our Government can do to ensure that our next generation is appropriately supported by the community so that they can give back to the community.

Politicians should be looking at what our Government can do to ensure that juveniles are given the best opportunities to break away from antisocial behavior and to provide positive responses. Examples include providing drug rehabilitation, psychological help, mentors to run ideas by and subsidies for workplace endeavors.  Also, other options could include providing physical tools for a trade and/or allowing adolescents to participate in worthwhile community endeavors to broaden their perspective, so that they become aware that there are different opportunities available to them in their lives than the offending paths that they have previously chosen.”

Quinn & Scattini are passionate about the rights of all adolescents; we offer uncompromising representation to protect their rights.  In situations where an adolescent is guilty we believe the Government should adopt with community groups an incentive scheme with the adolescent rather than stigmatising them for the rest of their life.