The Palaszczuk Government has announced “tough new action to target repeat youth offenders”. Measures to be implemented as described within the Government’s media release ‘Tough new action to target repeat youth offenders’ include:

  • use of electronic monitoring devices (GPS trackers) for recidivist high risk offenders aged 16 and 17
  • creation of a presumption against bail for youth offenders arrested for committing further serious indictable offences (such as breaking and entering, serious sexual assault and armed robbery) while on bail
  • seeking assurances from parents and guardians that bail conditions will be complied with before an alleged offender is released, and
  • strengthening of existing bail laws to provide further guidance to courts.

An additional media statement ‘Youth Justice reforms to crack down on recidivist offenders in Cairns‘ focused specifically on youth justice reforms to “crack down on recidivist offenders in Cairns” has also been released.

There will be some who count the Government’s announcements as a victory, there are others who will remain unappeased and view the measures as not ‘tough enough’, and there will be some who are disappointed and lamenting of the changes as out-of-step with youth justice practices elsewhere in Australia and the world. Irrespective of whichever camp you belong to, there is no-one – no-one at all – who can be proud and pleased about these outcomes and the events that have led to these decisions being made.

Four lives lost! The senseless deaths of Kate Leadbetter, Matt Field and their unborn baby, Miles defy description. There are no words that can adequately express the extent of this tragedy and our community’s sympathy for the loss being experienced by their families and loved ones. The death of Jennifer Board in Townsville, the innocent victim of alleged vigilantism, was equally senseless and has prompted immeasurable grief.

Nothing other than demands by the community for answers to why these deaths occurred and what must be done to prevent further deaths in the future was to be expected. As much as many crave justice and retribution for the pain that has been caused, the answers to these questions cannot be found in punishment alone, if at all. The respect that must be shown in honouring the legacy of Jennifer Board, Kate Leadbetter, Matt Fields and their baby, Miles demands much more.

Within recent media commentary, there has been acknowledgement that around 10% of all youth offenders account for 48% of all youth crime. Little has been stated however about these facts:

  • In recent years, less than 1% of Queensland children have committed offences proven in a court
  • Across Queensland, there has been a 30.8% decrease over the past decade in the number of children, aged 10 to 17 years, with a proven offence
  • New initiatives such as, to name just a few, the Transition 2 Success Program, Project Booyah, Restorative Justice and Specialist Multi-Agency Response Teams arising out recommendations of the Report on Youth Justice produced by Bob Atkinson in 2018 have led to a 23% decrease in the number of young offenders since March 2020.

These figures do not discount the concerns that should be held about the 10% of young people who commit 48% of the offences. It seems that these programs are not, as yet, fully hitting the mark for this group. They do however put paid to the notion that youth crime across the board is escalating and they also provide some indication of what is working well in curbing youth crime that can be built upon and extended. In many respects, it is foolish to assume that youth justice programs operating alone will be able to fully turn the tide for some young people. By the time these programs kick in, the horse will usually have already bolted.

Some commentators have suggested that child protection services must also carry a level of responsibility given that most of these young people will have also had dealings with these services or been in the care of the State. There is some truth to this. But so too is there the truth that most of these young people have not been engaged in education for many years and have few prospects for employment, both of which are major precursors to offending. So too is there a truth that many are struggling with mental health concerns, disabilities or substance use issues with little or no access to appropriate support services. So too is there a truth that many have been the victims of offences far greater in number and seriousness than any offences they themselves have committed. So too is there a truth that few have trustworthy adults in their lives they can call on for help. So too is there a truth that most come from families who are themselves struggling with the scourge of poverty, homelessness, domestic and family violence, and in many instances, racial intolerance and discrimination. So too is there a truth that vigilantism, branding of young people as ‘kid criminals’ in newspaper headlines and other messages from communities that young people are not wanted and do not belong in their midst serve only to perpetuate and exacerbate anti-social behaviour.

If we are truly serious about getting tough on youth crime, it will be about getting tough on the causes of youth crime. It will be about facing up to all of the truths listed above and dealing with each and every one of them.

Speaking of truths, there is an overarching one reflected in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. It follows that it also takes a village to breed a criminal. Put simply, if we are to stop youth crime, our village needs to improve.

My hope is that the many youth justice workers, police officers, legal advocates and staff from non-government agencies who work tirelessly to divert young people from proceeding on a trajectory into the adult criminal justice system and who skilfully provide them with the opportunities to rehabilitate and reintegrate with their communities are not de-moralised by the events of recent weeks. The truth is that each and every day you are making a difference in the lives of many young people and, in doing so, you are instrumental in bringing about the long-term protection of our community from crime. Of course, you can do better. We can all do better. But for now, please know that your work is important and appreciated.

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