By Georgia Eather
Edited for online by Alicia Moo
Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has announced a shake-up to the juvenile justice system.
The shake-up involves harsher penalties, naming and shaming junior offenders, and carrying over juvenile charges into the offender’s adult life.
The overhaul requires young offenders to make amends to their victims in a new community reparation model.
Youth Advocacy Centre director Janet White said she is not happy with the decision.
“There seems to be an idea that we are in some sort of youth crime wave, that young people are out of control, that something must be done,” she said.
“That actually isn’t the case; there is no evidence to support that.”
The State Government has released information stating some Queenslanders believe they would be safer if the principle of locking up youths as a last resort was removed from the Youth Justice Act.
Ms White said these methods will not work because they do not address the real issues.
“Those young people’s lives are characterised by socio-economic disadvantage, mental health issues, drug issues, family breakdown, abuse and neglect,” she said.
“So how locking those people up would be helpful is unclear.
“What the evidence and research shows is that they need services to help them address those issues.”
Fix what’s there
Ms White said the government should pay attention to the current research before making any major changes to the Youth Justice Act.
“Our agency has a significant number of concerns because the proposals that are being proposed run counter to the research and evidence for what is actually successful and what works in terms of addressing youths offending,” she said.
She said the community’s idea of a national juvenile crime wave is not correct, with the crime rate actually on the decrease.
“The fact is that we do not have a large number of offenders in Queensland,” she said.
“There are 413,000 10- to 16-year-olds and in a given year about 1.5 per cent of them will appear in a court for offending behaviour.”
She said the Government is projecting the idea to the community that children are not being brought to justice.
“Young people are brought to account. The criminal law applies to young people exactly the same as it applies to adults,” she said.
“It is just that they go through a slightly different system if they are alleged to have offended.”
Making things worse
QUT School of Justice senior lecturer Dr Angela Dwyer believes the changes will not help young offenders.
“I think it will be incredibly detrimental to the young people involved in the youth justice system,” she said.
“We have a lot of research now that those types of approaches are inappropriate.”
She said locking children up will cause them to re-offend as adults.
“The research tells us that if you put a young person in detention for a very limited reason that they are probably going to come back in future,” she said.
“Whereas if you send a young person to a restorative justice conference or something like that, they are less likely to go back and ascend in future.”
Dr Dwyer said Queensland should follow examples from overseas.
“Using money that they take from prisons for instance and putting it into the local communities, such as PCYC programs that can develop a 24 hour form of support for the young people when they come out of detention so that they do not go back in,” she said.
In March, Queenslanders were asked to complete a survey in order to help form the Government’s blueprint for youth justice.
More information on the Government’s Safer Streets Crime Action
Plan – Youth Justice report are available online.