Net widening is a term used whereby initiatives intended to divert young people away from the juvenile justice system may in fact serve to bring others within its parameters. According to Condliffe (1998) diversionary schemes heighten the risk of young people coming into contact with the juvenile justice system. He argues that they may have had lesser or no action taken against them if diversion was not available. Currently most states in Australia have some form of diversionary scheme in operation. One of these, the Young Offenders Act 1997 implemented by the New South Wales Government in April 1998, sets out a hierarchy of four options designed to lower the rate of young people appearing before the juvenile courts. The purpose of this paper is to determine whether in achieving its goal of diverting young people from the juvenile justice system, The Young Offenders ACT 1997 is in fact widening the net.
THE PROBLEM WITH JUVENILES
The image popularised by police and reflected by the media is of "an explosion of juvenile crime, of growing gangs of young hoodlums looting and pillaging, of delinquents destroying public and private property with reckless abandon" (O'Connor and Sweetapple, 1988). Almost on a daily basis the media conveys information about crime waves and threats to social order generated by certain sections of young people. Reports such as gang related violence, high speed car chases in stolen vehicles and how knives and guns are the preferred accessories carried by many gang members help to heighten the public's perception of an escalating juvenile crime problem. (Bessant and Hil, 1997). Such negative and pessimistic representations often influence government policy, carrying considerable weight especially when an election is due. Law and order policies expounded by major political parties always seem to be vote winners, usually at the...