The Adultification of the Youth Justice System: The Victorian Experience

Natalia Antolak-Saper   | Bio
Faculty of Law, Monash University


In early 2018, an Inquiry into Youth Justice Centres in Victoria (Inquiry) found that a combination of a punitive approach to youth justice, inadequate crime strategies, and a lack of appropriately trained and experienced staff at youth justice centres, greatly contributed to the hindrance of the rehabilitation of young persons in detention in Victoria, Australia. In addition to identifying these challenges, the Inquiry also determined that the way in which young offenders have been described by politicians and portrayed in the media in recent times, has had a significant impact on shaping youth justice policies and practices. This article specifically examines the role of the media in the adultification of the Victorian youth justice system. It begins with a historical examination of youth justice, drawing on the welfare model and the justice model.  This is followed by a discussion of the perception and reality of youth offending in Victoria. Here, it is demonstrated that through framing, the media represents heightened levels of youth offending and suggests that only a ‘tough on crime’ approach can curb such offending; an approach that has been adopted by the Victorian State Government in recent years. Finally, the article considers how recent youth justice reforms are examples of adultification, and by not adequately distinguishing between a child and adult offender, these reforms are inconsistent with the best interests of the child.



  1. Allam, L ‘Austraian Capital Territory votes to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14’ The Guardian, Sydney, 20 August 2020
  2. Aries, P. 1979. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Harmondsworth:
  3. Penguin
  4. Attorney-General Martin Pakula. Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017. 8 June 2017. Assembly, Second Reading Speech.
  5. Australian Law Reform Commission. 1997. Seen and Heard: Priority for Children in the Legal Process (1997) Final Report 84. Sydney: Australian Law Reform Commission
  6. Bernard, T. J. and Kurlychek, M. C. 2010. The Cycle of Justice. (2nd ed). New York: Oxford University Press.
  7. Bishop, D.M. 2006. Public opinion and juvenile justice policy: myths and misconceptions. Criminal Public Policy, 5(4), 653
  8. Bolin, R. M. (2014) Adultification in Juvenile Corrections: A Comparison of Juvenile and Adult Officers (Doctoral dissertation), retrieved from
  9. Butler, M. ‘Hard Core Youths in Crime Surge’ Herald Sun, Melbourne, 15 December 2016.
  10. Carrington, K. and Pereira, M. 2009. Offending Youth: Sex, Crime and Justice. Sydney: Federation Press
  11. Chalkley-Rhoden, S. ‘Violent Youth Crime in Victoria “Unprecedented”, Police Commissioner Graham Ashton Says’ ABC Online, Sydney, 29 January 2017.
  12. Clifford, K. and White, R. 2017. Media and Crime: Content, Context and Consequence. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  13. Coppins, V., Casey, S. and Campbell, A. 2001. The Child’s Best Interest: A Review of Australian Juvenile Justice Legislation. The Open Criminology Journal 4, 23
  14. Crime Statistics Agency,
  15. Crofts, T. 2015. A Brighter Tomorrow: Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility. Current Issues in Criminal Justice 27(1), 123
  16. Crofts, T. 2018. Prosecuting Child Offenders: Factors Relevant to Rebutting the Presumption of Doli Incapax’. Sydney Law Review 40(3), 339
  17. Crofts, T. ‘Doli Incapax: Why Children Deserve its Protection’ (2003) 10(3) Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law
  18. Crofts, T. 2008. The Criminal Responsibility of Children in Geoff Monahan and Lisa Young (eds), Children and the Law in Australia. Sydney: Lexis Nexis Butterworths
  19. Crofts, T. 2019. Will Australia Raise the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility? Criminal Law Journal 43
  20. Cunneen, C., White, R. and Richards, K. 2015. Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  21. Cunneen, Chris and White, R. 2011. Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia (4th ed., Oxford University Press)
  22. Dolgin J. L. 1997. The Fate of Childhood: Legal Models of Childhood and of the Parent-Child Relationship. Alb L Rev, 61, 345
  23. Feld, B., 2013. Kids, Cops, and Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room. New York: New York University Press
  24. Forst, M., Fagan, J., & Vivona, S T., (1989) Youth in prisons and state training schools. Juvenile and Family Court Journal 39, 1
  25. Freiberg, A., ‘Sentencing Young Offenders’ (Paper presented at the International Association of Youth and Family Judges and Magistrates XVI World Congress, Melbourne, 28 October 2002)
  26. Freiberg, A., Fox R., and Hogan, M., 1989. Procedural Justice in Sentencing Australian Juveniles. Monash University Law Review, 15 (3–4), 279
  27. Freiberg, A., Fox R., and Hogan, M., Sentencing Young Offenders, Sentencing Research Paper no. 11 (Australian Law Reform Commission and Commonwealth Youth Bureau, 1988)
  28. Fullerton, R.S. and Patterson, M.J. ‘Crime News and Privacy: Comparing Crime Reporting in Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom’ in Julian Petley (ed) Media and Public Shaming: Drawing the Boundaries of Disclosure, (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2013)
  29. Hakkert, A. 1998. ‘No More Excuses: A New Approach to Tackling Youth Crime in England and Wales: A Summary’ European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research 6(2), 279
  30. Hoge, R. 2001. ‘A Case Management Instrument for Use in Juvenile Justice Systems’ Juvenile and Family Court Journal 52(2), 25
  31. Hudson, F., and Hosking, W. ’15 and Out of Control’ Herald Sun, Melbourne, 17 July 2016.
  32. Jewkes, Y. 2010. ‘The Construction of Crime News’, in Chris Greer (ed) Crime and Media: A Reader (London, Routledge)
  33. Jewkes, Y. 2015. Media and Crime, (SAGE Publications, 3rd ed,)
  34. Kupchik, A. 2006. Judging juveniles: Prosecuting adolescents in adult and juvenile courts. (New York University Press)
  35. Mathews, B. 2000. ‘Children’ Criminal Responsibility In Australia: Some Legal, Psychological And Human Rights Issues’ Australian and New Zealand Journal of Law and Education 5(2), 27
  36. McAra, L. and Mcvie, S. 2010. ‘Youth Crime and Justice: Key Messages from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime’ Criminology and Criminal Justice 10(2), 179
  37. McVie, S. 2011. ‘Alternative models of youth justice: lessons from Scotland and Northern Ireland’ Journal of Children's Services 6(2), 106
  38. Merlo, A V. and Benekos, P J. 2010. ‘Is Punitive Juvenile Justice Policy Declining in the United States? A Critique of Emergent Initiatives’ Youth Justice10(1), 3
  39. Millsteed, M. and Sutherland, P. 2016. ‘How has Youth Crime in Victoria changed over the past 10 years? In Fact, Crime Statistics Agency
  40. Minear, T. ‘Andrews Slammed for Soft Treatment of Thugs’ Herald Sun, Melbourne, 30 November 2016
  41. Monahan, G. and Young, L. 2008. (eds), Children and the Law in Australia (LexisNexis Butterworths)
  42. Newburn, T. ‘Back to the Future? Youth Crime, Youth Justice and the Rediscovery of Authoritarian Populism’ in Jane Pilcher and Steven Wagg (eds) Thatcher’s Children? Politics, Childhood and Society in the 1980s and 1900s (Falmer Press, 1996)
  43. O'Brien, W. and Fitz-Gibbon, K, ‘The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Victoria (Australia): examining stakeholders’ view and the need for principled reform’ (2017) 17(2) Youth Justice 134
  44. O’Connor, I, (1997) Models of juvenile justice in Alder C (ed.). Juvenile crime and juvenile justice. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, Research and Public Policy Series No. 14
  45. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, The Role of Statistics and Public Opinion in the Implementation of International Juvenile Justice Standards, Expert Workshop on the Administration of Juvenile Justice, (September 2002)
  46. Ogloff, J, and Armytage, P, (2017) Youth Justice Review and Strategy: Meeting Needs and Reducing Offending, Report, Victorian Government
  47. Palmer, D, and Walters, R, 'Crime prevention camps for youth 'at risk': Blurring the boundaries of care and control' in Cheryl Simpson and Richard Hil (eds) Ways of Resistance: Social Control and Young People in Australia (1995, Hale & Iremonger)
  48. Patton et al, ‘Our Future: A Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Wellbeing’ (2016) 387 Lancet 2423
  49. Petley, J, Film and Video Censorship in Modern Britain, (Edinburgh University Press, 2011)
  50. Preiss, B, Hunter, F and Koziol, M, ‘Andrews and Dutton trade blows over youth violence’ 11 January 2011 The Age (Online)
  51. Quill, J, ‘Some Juvenile Thugs Should be Identified’ 17 October 2016 Herald Sun, 23
  52. Richard, K, ‘What Makes Juvenile Offender Different from Adult Offenders?’ (February 2011) No.409 Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology
  53. Rowe, D, ‘Obituary for the Newspaper? Tracking the Tabloid’ (2011) 12(4) Journalism 449
  54. Sasson, T, Crime Talk: How Citizens Construct a Social Problem, (Aline de Gruyter, 1995)
  55. Scottish Home and Health Department. (1964). Children and Young Persons: Scotland. [Kilbrandon Report]. Edinburgh: HMSO
  56. Sentencing Advisory Council, Reoffending by Children and Young People in Victoria (December 2016) Sentencing Advisory Council
  57. Sentencing Advisory Council, Sentencing Children and Young People in Victoria (April 2012) Sentencing Advisory Council
  58. Smith, R. ‘Inside Melbourne’s wild youth prison’, Sydney, 9 September 2019
  59. Taylor, C, (2016) Review of the Youth Justice System in England and Wales, London: Ministry of Justice
  60. Travers, M, ‘Welfare, Punishment or Something Else? Sentencing Minor Offences Committed by Young People in Tasmania and Victoria’ (2010) 22(1) Current Issues in Criminal Justice 99
  61. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 2007 CRC/C/GC/10
  62. Victoria Police, Crime Statistics 2013/2014
  63. Victorian Law Reform Commission, Protection Applications in the Children’s Court’ (Final Report, 2009)
  64. Ward, and Kupchik, A, ‘Accountable to What?: Professional Orientations Towards Accountability-Based Juvenile Justice’ (2014) 11(1) Punishment and Society 85
  65. White, A, ‘Teens Run into Strife’ Herald Sun, Melbourne, 24 May 2017
  66. White, A; ‘Most Young Crims End up in Big House’ Herald Sun, Melbourne, 16 December 2016
  67. Willingham, R, Hall, B, and Lee, J ‘Back Down on Jailed Teens’ The Age, Melbourne, 30 November 2016
How to Cite
Antolak-Saper N. The Adultification of the Youth Justice System: The Victorian Experience. LiC [Internet]. 2020Nov.24 [cited 2021Sep.26];37(1):99-113. Available from:

Send mail to Author

Send Cancel