The Young Offenders Act 1997 passed through Parliament in June 1997 and becomes effective on 6 April 1998. It is the result of 10 years of trials and reform of the Juvenile Justice System.
The Young Offenders Act 1997 changes the way police and the justice system deal with young offenders. It actively seeks to steer young offenders away from the court by directing them to alternative forms of intervention. It provides a new more constructive pro for dealing with young people who break the law.
Currently, police have the option to give a warning on the run or a caution. Police can use them but do not have to explain why they did not. Under the Act, police must clearly justify each decision.
The Act aims to make young offenders take responsibility for their actions, acknowledge the rights of the victim, avoid the cost and time of a court appearance and most importantly – steer young offenders away from detention. They achieve this by holding a Youth Justice Conference. Conference schemes already exist in Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
The Young Offenders Act 1997 responds to a number of complex and sensitive issues identified by the Government. It aims to:
- make young offenders responsible for their actions and to encourage their families and communities to share this responsibility;
- strengthen the rights of the victim and repair some of the damage caused by crime;
- involve the victims and their families in the conference decision-making process;
- make the juvenile justice system more responsive to individual circumstances;
- reduce the time and costs involved in the court system;
- reduce the human costs of too many young people in detention;
- improve public confidence in the juvenile justice system.