Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Youth bail laws to be eased in NSW

Imre Salusinsky | The Australian | February 7, 2012 

BAIL laws in NSW will be reformed in a push by the state government to reduce the number of young people in jail.

NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith has confirmed to The Australian the changes are likely to include exempting accused juveniles from tough provisions introduced to the bail act in 2007, which limited the right of accused offenders to make repeated applications for bail once an initial bid was refused.

At about 400, the number of juveniles in detention in NSW is the highest in the country.

About half are on remand -- a proportion that spiked following the new provisions.

"Once they get into detention, their prospects of returning to a normal life are diminished," Mr Smith said said of accused offenders aged under 18.

"There are currently more juveniles on remand than are serving detention. They're being exposed to more serious young criminals while they are there."

He said the 2007 changes "did seem to impact in a more prejudicial way on juveniles than it did on adult prisoners".

About 85 per cent of those on remand in juvenile detention centres will not receive a custodial sentence, and more than 10 per cent will be acquitted.

Of the 5343 admissions to centres in 2010-11, 4768 were remand cases with a median stay of one day.

About half the total population of juvenile detention centres is indigenous.

It is understood a confidential report on the bail act by the NSW Law Reform Commission recommends exemption from the 2007 changes for juveniles.

The report recommends judges should take into account the desirability of young people not having their education or employment interrupted when considering bail applications.

It says referral to a Youth Justice Conference -- in which young offenders are required to apologise to their victims and make reparations -- should be an alternative to remand.

Mr Smith said he was likely to follow those suggestions.

"I'm looking for ways to assist with rehabilitation rather than just putting people into custody, particularly young people," he said. "If they are actively pursuing education or sticking to their job, that is something the courts should try to encourage."

Mr Smith said he was looking at ways to increase the limited accommodation available for accused young people who would normally be granted bail but are homeless or do not have a safe home to go to. "Whether or not the government can afford this, we need more accommodation for these young people," he said.

Mr Smith said he had no intention of introducing more lenient bail conditions for ethnic minorities, gays or transsexuals.

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