Australian Institute of Criminology

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For more than a decade, there has been significant interest in the extent to which young people have been remanded in custody in Australia, with the perception that the numbers experiencing remand are increasing—particularly in light of the steady increase since 1981 in the proportion of young people in detention on remand.

Funded and endorsed by the Australasian Juvenile Justice Administrators, this is one of the first pieces of research conducted on a national scale into the bail and remand practices for young people in Australia. A young person can be placed in custody on remand (ie refused bail) after being arrested by police in relation to a suspected criminal offence, before entering a plea, while awaiting trial, during trial or awaiting sentence.

Although custodial remand plays an important role in Western criminal justice systems, minimising the unnecessary use of remand is important given the obligations Australia has under several United Nations instruments to use youth detention of any kind as a last resort only. This research identifies trends in the use of custodial remand and explores the factors that influence its use for young people nationally and in each of Australia’s jurisdictions. A key finding of this study is that while the rate of young people in detention on remand has increased, the rate of sentenced young people in detention has decreased more substantially over the same period. This indicates that although there have been increases in the use of remand, the issue has been overstated to some extent. That said, there were very high levels of young people on custodial remand identified in some jurisdictions (the Northern Territory in particular). There were also substantial differences in the representation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people on remand, with Indigenous young people 20 times more likely to be on remand and to spend longer on remand than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Having assessed the nature of the use of remand and its drivers, the authors highlight the need for renewed debate on the purpose(s) of bail, the importance of implementing evidence-based policies and programs that prevent the onset of offending by young people, and the implementation and evaluation of appropriately targeted bail support services for young people, particularly those with multiple, complex needs.

Dr Adam Tomison