Australian Institute of Criminology

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Performance measurement (the use of empirical indicators to measure outcomes that government services are supposed to achieve) has emerged in recent years as a strategy to assist governments assess the impact of their operations, improve service provision and effectively target resources. In the criminal justice sector, recidivism is often used as a measure of the performance of government agencies, such as correctional services and juvenile justice agencies. Recidivism has, however, been identified as a limited and problematic measure of performance, for a range of reasons. It has been argued, for example, that many factors influence whether an offender recidivates, some of which are not within the control of government agencies.

Recidivism is a particularly problematic measure of the performance of juvenile justice agencies, as offending peaks during adolescence. As such, juveniles might be expected to recidivate at a higher rate than adults, irrespective of interventions provided by juvenile justice agencies. Recidivism nonetheless remains one important measure of the performance of juvenile justice agencies, albeit one that should be cautiously interpreted. This report presents the findings of a literature review and consultations with key stakeholders in each of Australia’s jurisdictions on measuring juvenile recidivism. It outlines the limitations of using recidivism as a measure of performance for juvenile justice agencies and presents a range of options for better conceptualising and measuring juvenile recidivism. The report also provides four international examples of recent efforts to adopt more robust and meaningful measures of juvenile recidivism. Finally, 13 principles are proposed that could be used to inform and enhance the measurement of juvenile recidivism in Australia.

Clearly, measuring juvenile recidivism is a challenging task. This study is an important step towards having national data on juvenile recidivism that are both meaningful and comparable across Australia’s jurisdictions, and that would contribute towards the development of more effective juvenile justice interventions across Australia.

Adam Tomison