Jail wasted on juvenile offenders: study

LOCKING up juvenile offenders appeared to have no greater deterrent effect on the rate of reoffending than lesser non-custodial penalties, a new study revealed.

The finding broadly contradicted two earlier studies, one which found juveniles given custodial sentences were more likely to reoffend and another which found lower reoffending rates for jailed car thieves but higher rates for those locked away for other offences.

The latest study, released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology, involved a detailed assessment of 152 juvenile offenders given detention sentences and 243 handed a non-custodial sentence, all in NSW.

All were interviewed at length about family life, school performance, drug abuse and association with delinquent peers.

“The results of this study suggest that, other things being equal, juveniles given custodial orders are no less likely to reoffend than juveniles given non-custodial orders,” the study authors concluded.

The differing findings of the latest study were probably due to more detailed consideration of the juveniles’ prior criminal records, they said.

On an average day almost 1000 young people were in custody across Australia, at a high cost to the community.

In NSW, only 10.3 per cent of juveniles appearing in the NSW Children’s Court in 2007 were locked up, but they accounted for almost half the budget of the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice.

Despite that cost, actual research on the impact of juvenile detention was scanty, with previous research conducted in 1974 and 1996.

The latest study found about half of each group reoffended during the follow-up period, with mean time to reconviction about five months.

That is consistent with overseas studies which pointed to significant future penalties imposed on those who had served jail time, particularly reduced employment prospects.