How the youth justice system works

Our goal is to provide a fair and balanced response to young people in contact with the youth justice system. This response:

  • holds young people accountable for their actions
  • encourages young people to reintegrate into the community
  • gives young people skills to create a better future
  • promotes community safety.

Overview of legislation

The Youth Justice Act 1992 took effect on 1 September 1993 as the Juvenile Justice Act 1992 . Major changes to the Act were made in 1996, 2002, 2010 and 2014.

The Act provides a framework for dealing with young people in contact with the youth justice system. This framework outlines:

  • procedures for police to respond to young people
  • diversionary options such as cautioning and youth justice conferencing
  • how courts deal with young people
  • a range of sentencing options
  • how we manage young people on sentence orders
  • how youth detention centres are operated
  • the importance of families and communities in the rehabilitation and reintegration of young people, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • youth justice principles.

The Act includes a wide range of options to address the variety of offending that happens. Offending can range from minor, one-off offending (that represents most offending) to serious, persistent offending.


The Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016 started on 12 February 2018. This means young offenders who are 17 are now dealt with in the youth justice system.

This brought Queensland into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the law in all other Australian jurisdictions.

The legislation supports wide-sweeping reforms being implemented across Youth Justice, to ensure the rehabilitation of young offenders.

Under the Act, 17-year-olds can access the same support and services that children aged 16 and under can access. This includes:

  • access to a support person when interviewed by police
  • legal advice and separate conditions for watch houses
  • age and developmentally appropriate interventions.

Other related legislation

Other legislation that interacts with the Youth Justice Act includes:

Youth justice principles

The charter of youth justice principles underpins the Youth Justice Act 1992.

Principles include that:

  • the community should be protected from offences
  • young people should be held accountable and encouraged to accept responsibility for what they have done
  • consideration should be given to a child’s age, maturity and, where appropriate, cultural and religious beliefs and practices
  • the youth justice system should uphold the rights of children, keep them safe and promote their physical and mental wellbeing.

Youth justice policy and practice

Queensland’s youth justice policy supports contemporary youth justice practice to:

  • reduce offending
  • achieve improved outcomes for young offenders and their families.

Our services operate within a framework established by the Youth Justice Act and principles, as well as whole-of-government policy.

Operational policies, procedures and guidelines govern the way we work with youth justice clients, including:

  • victims
  • young people in the youth justice system and their families
  • partner organisations who help us deliver services.

We regularly review policies, procedures and guidelines to ensure that they:

  • are best practice
  • reflect the youth justice principles.

All our programs have a strong evidence base to ensure they deliver the improved outcomes we aim for. From 2016 we measure our programs against the Standardized Program Evaluation Protocol.

Our work is based on the principles of trauma-informed practice, a framework that emphasises the physical, psychological, and emotional safety of providers and survivors. It gives survivors a chance to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment in their lives.

More information