Policing very young offenders under the age of criminal responsibility

Mr Paul Hart1, Dr Jacqueline  Drew

1Queensland Police Service, Brisbane, Australia

Very young offenders under the irrebuttable age of criminal responsibility in Australia (under 10 years) who exhibit what would otherwise be considered to be criminal behavior cannot be prosecuted, leaving law enforcement agencies to formulate their own responses. With the current level of scrutiny of youth justice systems around Australia and debate looming regarding the possibility of raising the age of criminal responsibility in Queensland and other states and territories, the need to better understand and respond to this cohort of very young offenders is vital.

Research undertaken by the presenters in a 2018 study focused on analyzing the cohort of very young offenders dealt with by members of the Queensland Police Service through the process of ‘behavioral counselling’, specifically within the calendar year of 2010. This research focused on understanding the size, demographic make-up and complexities associated with this under 10 cohort, who had contact with Queensland Police during that single calendar year. This research also allowed analysis to be undertaken in relation to the sub-set of offenders whose offending history subsequent to receiving ‘behavioral counselling’ continued through to the age of 18 in 2018, revealing the extent and nature of their offending.

This study has been the catalyst for further research regarding how law enforcement may best respond in order to proactively and more effectively divert very young offenders from later interaction with the criminal justice system. No study of this kind has previously been conducted into this cohort or the efficacy of the ‘behavioral counselling’ process.


Detective Inspector Paul Hart has over 29 years policing experience with the QPS, 24 years of which have been as an appointed Detective. His career highlights include being embedded in the Carmody Commission of Inquiry into Queensland’s Child Protection System, and serving a 12-month secondment at the University of Queensland as the Police Visiting Fellow. Paul holds a Masters of Leadership & Management in Policing, a Masters of Terrorism and Security Studies, a Grad.Dip in Criminological Research Studies and a Grad.Cert in Corruption & Integrity Management. Paul is currently completing a PhD focusing on the policing of very young offenders.


Dec 08 2021