Change in offence seriousness by juvenile offenders

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Release date: 25 October 2010

New research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has for the first time shed light on the question of whether offending by juvenile offenders gets more serious over time.

The Bureau measured offence seriousness among a sample of 3,282 juveniles born in 1984 who had had at least two criminal convictions recorded against them in separate court appearances before June 30 th 2009.

Two methods were used to assess the changes in offence seriousness. The first looked at changes in offence seriousness across the entire sample of juvenile offenders. The second looked at changes in offence seriousness among specific subgroups of offenders.

The first analysis revealed no systematic trend in offence seriousness across the sample of juvenile offenders as a whole.

The second identified four distinct groups of offenders: (1) a group whose offending became more serious over time (16.1% of sample), (2) a group whose offending was never very serious and did not become more serious over time (32.7% of sample), (3) a group whose offending was serious and remained so over time (26.0% of sample) and (4) a group whose offending became less serious over time (25.2% of the sample).

The study was only able to conduct a preliminary analysis of the offender characteristics distinguishing individuals belonging to each of these four groups.

The results showed that, by comparison with the stable low seriousness group, offenders in all other groups were younger at their first offence.

In terms of gender and Indigenous status, the only differences were that males and Indigenous offenders were more likely to be in the high seriousness group in comparison to the low seriousness group.

Earlier research by the Bureau revealed that juveniles whose first contact with the criminal justice system occurs between the ages of 10 and 14 are more likely to re-offend than those whose first contact occurs when they are older.

The present research shows that those whose first court appearance occurs when they are young are also more likely to commit more serious offences over time. This is a group, then, that deserve particular attention when it comes to programs that reduce the risk of juvenile re-offending.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 0419-494-408