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Some long-term positive trends in youth detention in New South Wales (Australia)

Garner Clancey (University of Sydney Law School, Sydney, Australia)
Jedidiah Evans (Department of English, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Leili Friedlander (University of Sydney Law School, Sydney, Australia)

Safer Communities

ISSN: 1757-8043

Article publication date: 16 February 2023

Issue publication date: 17 February 2023




The purpose of this study is to highlight some long-term positive trends in youth detention in New South Wales (NSW) (Australia).


This paper is based on a review of major inquiries into youth detention in NSW over the last 40 years and analysis of recently published youth custody statistics.


There have been a number of positive long-term trends in youth detention in NSW, including a significant reduction in the number of young people held in custody, including the number (as opposed to the proportion) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people; the total number of youth custody beds has fallen, and there has been a significant positive change in the physical accommodation provided to young people in youth detention, with new facilities replacing unsuitable former centres; and no young person has died in custody (though there was the tragic death of an assistant teaching instructor in 1999) since 1990. These significant positive long-term trends are often lost in the criticisms levelled at the youth justice system.


This paper highlights a series of positive developments that have generally received little or no attention in the extant literature. Australia, as with other jurisdictions, has had a series of damning reviews of youth detention in recent years. While the issues raised in these reviews and inquiries are important and should necessarily be addressed, it is equally important to acknowledge significant positive trends.



Clancey, G., Evans, J. and Friedlander, L. (2023), "Some long-term positive trends in youth detention in New South Wales (Australia)", Safer Communities, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 15-27.



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