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 . 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 restorative 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 Act has been amended numerous times since it commenced. Information about significant recent amendments is on our departmental website.


The Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016 started on 12 February 2018. 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.

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 safe, particularly from serious repeat youth offenders
  • 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:

  • prioritise community safety
  • address issues related to youth crime
  • collaborate, coordinate and provide services, particularly with First Nations young people, families and communities
  • 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.

Our programs are designed to align with the evidence on what is known to reduce reoffending.

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

  • are best practice
  • reflect the youth justice principles.

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.

Framework for practice

The Youth Justice Framework for Practice was announced as part of the Youth Justice Strategy Action Plan 2019–2021 and released in June 2020.

The framework aims to confirm and share the underlying values, principles, knowledge bases and skills that are central to:

  • driving improvements in youth offending outcomes
  • keeping communities safe.

More information

Find out more about young offenders and the justice system.