Last week, the State Government released a new 5-point youth crime action plan consisting of:
- ‘Tougher action on bail’ to reduce the likelihood of young people who pose a risk to the community being granted bail,
- A ‘police blitz on bail’ that will involve more appeals of court decisions about bail where appropriate,
- 24/7 ‘Police Strike Teams’ involving youth justice workers who will target high risk young people in five locations,
- A trial of new ‘On Country’ rehabilitation initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in Townsville, Cairns and Mount Isa, and
- An allocation of $2 million to empower community-based organisations to develop and implement local community-based solutions.
With the plan having been announced in the midst of concentrated reporting by some media outlets about a ‘youth crime wave’, Premier Palaszczuk said she had listened to the concerns raised by communities. So what are the facts about the ’youth crime wave’?
Only 1% of the total number of Queensland children and young people in 2017-18 had a proven offence and over the past decade, there has been a steady and significant decrease in the number of young people coming to the attention of the Police – over 20%. The Government also claims a 12% reduction in the number of ‘young offenders’ since the initiation of a number of new youth justice strategies in 2017. That hardly constitutes a youth crime wave. In fact, it’s the opposite – the tide seems to be running out!
The Government also acknowledges however that there is a small group of young people – around 10% of those coming into contact with the youth justice system – who are committing over 40% of the offences. It appears that many of these young people are located in some specific communities and their antics have become highly visible courtesy, at least in part, to social media.
The Government is now walking a tight-rope and must proceed with caution. On the one hand, it must continue to build on the strategies that are proving successful in diverting young people from unwarranted or unnecessarily prolonged involvement with the youth justice system, realising that this involvement dramatically increases the likelihood of these young people being placed on a trajectory into adult criminal activity. The best long-term protection of the community of the community from crime will be achieved from assisting young people to grow out of crime, not from entrenching them in it.
On the other hand, the Government must, and must be seen to, appreciate the immediate concerns of communities about their safety. Becoming the victim of a crime, or living with the fear of becoming a victim, is distressing and these feelings must be acknowledged. But this is where the lines also become murky given that most young people who offend have been the victims of offences far greater in number and seriousness than the ones they themselves have allegedly committed. Young people do not suddenly transform from being abused children worthy of our compassion and understanding to young offenders who deserve nothing other than our derision and vilification.
In addressing concerns expressed by the community for protection from crimes committed by a few young people, the Government must take care to not dilute strategies that are working well for the many – a case of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Now more than ever, there is a need to ensure that children, young people and their families do not become a political football. The complexities of dealing with young people’s lives and the stakes involved demand that policy is not driven by media frenzy or fear, but rather well-researched and sound evidence of what works and what works well. This requires the exercise of courage by political leaders of all persuasions, courage that we are entitled to expect from our elected representatives.
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