Our Opinion

It doesn’t take Einstein…


A question on notice put to the Hon Leanne Linard MP, Minister for Children and Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs on 18 August 2022 included this query, “Will the Minister advise what the current reoffender rate is for juvenile offenders who have been incarcerated at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre (located at Townsville)?”.

Ms Linard’s reply was, “In the 12-month period ending 31 March 2021, there were 322 distinct young people who completed a custody stay at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre. Of those young people, 95% were alleged to have committed another offence in the 12 months following their release.”

This is, of course, an extremely poor outcome – both for the children and young people who have been incarcerated and the local community in terms of their safety from crime. It is a result that highlights the very low rehabilitative value of detention and its abysmally low effectiveness in serving as a deterrence. At best, it may be seen as a quick-fix short-term solution in taking some children and young people ‘off the streets’ for a while. However, as starkly presented by an abundant amount of research and evidence, the incarceration of young people greatly increases the likelihood of them re-offending and being placed on a trajectory into a lifetime of crime. It should be viewed as a solution to a problem that, in effect, becomes a far greater problem than the problem it was originally meant to solve. Surely, both children and young people and the communities in which they live deserve better than poor social policy with so little discernible benefits for anyone.

Many of the comments posted in response to this recent PeakCare blog, ‘Petition to raise the age presented to Queensland’s Attorney-General’ flag alternative evidence-based responses that are achieving much better outcomes. The focus of this blog was placed on raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, with particular attention placed on the vulnerability of these very young children during their encounters with a criminal justice system. 

It is puzzling why in the face of evidence that clearly demonstrates the much greater effectiveness of alternative approaches to the incarceration of children, calls for harsher punishments including increased use of detention continue to be expounded. Was it not Einstein who said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”?

Governments from across Australia are being placed in invidious positions of choosing between ‘tough on youth crime’ policy positions that represent attempts to appease some whilst knowing that these policies are flawed, and more progressive polices that risk the ire of those who will regard them as being ‘soft on crime’. Recent news of the Queensland Government giving consideration to constructing an additional youth detention centre in North Queensland sits uncomfortably alongside a range of initiatives already introduced by the Government in North and Far North Queensland that have successfully resulted in a 25% decrease in the number of children and young people being charged with offences during the 12-month period ending on 31 March 2022 compared with the previous 12-month period. There is also an element of incongruence that exists between this announcement and the recent calls made by the Government for applications for new and innovative community-based projects aimed at preventing and reducing youth offending.

It does not take Einstein to work out that the $3m allocated to this Community Partnership Innovation Grant initiative costs much less than the many hundreds of millions of dollars that will be needed to build, staff and administer a new youth detention centre. Nor does it take Einstein to work out which will represent better value for tax-payer dollars.

Please feel free to enter your thoughts and comments below, anonymously if you prefer.

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