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Identification of Youth Offenders

Letter dated 4 June 2015 to the Attorney-General, the Hon John Elferick MLA

The Law Society Northern Territory (the Society) refers to our letter to you dated 18 September 2014 calling on you to introduce urgent amendments to the Youth Justice Act (Act) to prevent the publication of information identifying youth who come in contact with the justice system.

 

Recently several news outlets ran, over several days, photographs and named two youths who had escaped and then returned to the corrections facility. The clear public interest in rehabilitating and reintegrating juveniles back into the community must be balanced against the public interest in open justice and public safety and as such reasonable exceptions ought to remain.

The Society reiterates its concern that as the Minister for Children and Families, permitting the publication of youth identities"™ does not fit within the well-established principle that the best interest of the child is to be at the forefront of decision making.

It is clear that publicly identifying youth offenders is not in the interests of Territorians. The high costs of incarceration and rehabilitation is well documented. Anything that can be done to bring an end to incarceration, ensure young offenders become functioning, contributing members of society must be embraced.

The evidence is clear that it stigmatises youths and has a negative impact on their rehabilitation prospects and potentially leading to increased offending[1]. As the behaviour of the youths demonstrate they already strongly self-identify with criminal or deviant behaviours, reinforced by the media coverage. Accounting for the long term nature of digital media and in a small jurisdiction such as the Northern Territory these effects are compounded. It is clear that their actions in escaping were impulsive, and in returning they sought attention for their actions, which they achieved. There is no deterrent effect.

The Society is concerned that whilst the media hyperbole creates a level of notoriety for the youth, and shame for their custodians, little consideration is given to the impact of this coverage on the victims of their crimes.

The Society thus calls upon you to enact an urgent amendment to the Act so that apart from exceptional circumstances; it prevents the identification of youth offenders in the Northern Territory.

The Society would be happy to be consulted on any draft amendments.

[1] Johnston A., "˜The Privacy Commissioner"™s Report on Child Offenders and Privacy"™, Position Paper, 23 July 2002, p 2, quoted in Submission 16, Shopfront Youth Legal Centre, p 7

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