YAK on YAC

February 2021

Some things never change?

I am sure that everyone has heard and seen the activity around youth justice over the last two or three weeks.

The tragedy of the death of the couple in Alexandra Hills cannot be understated. The pain and hurt to their families is also unimaginable.

However, the action now proposed by the government is not justified. Instead of the situation being calmed, it is being inflamed. Instead of leadership, it is rule by media and vested interests. We suddenly need (yet another) overhaul of the whole youth justice system – despite the government media statement about its proposed “further crackdown on juvenile crime” noting that reforms put in place by the last Palaszczuk administration “have led to a 23% decrease in the number of young offenders”. Youth Justice’s Transition to Success Program (educational) is said to have “a 67 per cent success rate” (in terms of re-offending).

There has been no public education of the bail system and how it works – or indeed the youth justice system. The media always reports that a child is to be dealt with “under the Youth Justice Act” but provides no explanation of what this means which reinforces the ongoing “slap on the wrist” mythology. The general public does not realise that the Criminal Law applies to children from the age of 10; the court process is not radically different to that which adults face; and sentences are comparable but with the shorter timeframes to reflect the different perception of time of children.

YAC has been generally supportive of the government’s approach to addressing youth offending as articulated by former Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson in his Report on Youth Justice prepared for Minister Farmer.  Based on this, the Palaszczuk Government developed the strategy which it says is producing good results. The Report provides for action around four “pillars”:

  • Intervene early
  • Keep children out of court
  • Keep children out of custody
  • Reduce reoffending

With respect to reducing offending, the Report said:

It is important therefore that child offenders are carefully assessed to determine the most appropriate response to their characteristics, offending histories and risks associated with potential further offending. Likewise the responses must address these factors to ensure both the protection of the community and ensure children receive the support they need to participate positively in society

The knee jerk response which has been announced fails to take this advice. Worse, it makes false promises to the community by saying that things which are contrary to the evidence will work. The Atkinson Report found that use of electronic monitoring will be of limited effect for children (not that it supports its use as has been reported). More relevantly, the Report does consider the matter of unlawful use of motor vehicles which is directly relevant to the initial incident. We do need to look at the issue of unlawful use of motor vehicles, which is increasing after a downturn following the transition to electronic locking and other technological changes, because of the risks of serious harm which can result. One practical and relevant response would be to have the ability to require Facebook and similar social media platforms to remove posts of children (or adults) with stolen vehicles or driving stolen vehicles. Gaining attention and notoriety supports the behaviour and also a “competitive” environment. It is arguable that social media is aiding and abetting offending by allowing this material to remain uploaded. YAC recently had a child charged with aiding and abetting a fight because they filmed it on their phone, the argument being that they were encouraging those fighting by so doing. The same argument must be relevant to social media sites who maintain the material online.

The Premier is quoted as saying “It is clear to me and to the community that some young offenders simply don’t care about the consequences”. It is not necessarily that they do not care. Children do not understand consequences as adults do: it is part of the developmental process of the brain which does not end until around the age of 25 years. In adolescence they are effectively programmed to take risks without thinking about the consequences. Simply being more punitive will not change this – positive engagements with key institutions such as education, involvement in positive activities which support self-control and good decision making, and having good role models, will be the best influence on behaviour.

Not unusually, the Mayor of Townsville, Councillor Jenny Hill, has weighed into the discussion supporting the youth justice proposals. Councillor Hill, it should be noted, is herself currently facing court on a charge of driving without due care and attention causing the death of a 33-year-old motorcyclist in October last year and has not stood down from her role as Mayor:

It’s terrible. This is an unnecessary incident. We just implore people to pay attention to what they’re doing. [Senior Sergeant Wilkie, Forensic Crash Unit]   

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-30/townsville-mayor-involved-in-crash-that-kills-motorcyclist/11912708

How this would excuse the alleged behaviour is unclear.

It is also noteworthy that the call for laws in relation to coercive control following the deaths of three small children and their mother last year, will take four years to achieve, according to the government response to the mother’s parents: 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-14/qld-hannah-clarke-domestic-violence-murder-anniversary-brisbane/13137484

Double standards are at play.  There is no justification for the current action in relation to youth justice, the generic nature of the proposed amendments or the speed at which they are being progressed. Of significant concern is that one outcome of these changes is the increased risk that children will once again be held in police watchhouses.

YAC continues its call for an approach to youth offending and youth offenders which is evidence-based, balanced and provides consistent, long-term policy and practice for the benefit of the young people concerned and the community overall. We developed a 10-point plan for investment based on the need to do as much as possible to keep children out of, or prevent them coming back into, the youth justice system.  This plan seeks to address the social and welfare issues which increase the risk of children’s ongoing involvement in the criminal justice system. As such, it is aims for an effective and responsible use of taxpayer dollars and thereby addresses concerns around community safety:

  1. Support families early but also throughout adolescence
  2. Address housing and homelessness issues for families and children and young people
  3. Keep children and young people engaged in education: in particular, look for alternatives to suspension and exclusion
  4. Increase provision of mental health services for children and young people with moderate to high mental health needs
  5. Increase provision of detox and rehab facilities for children and young people
  6. Enable access to mentors
  7. Enable access to youth appropriate activities and space
  8. Support local communities to develop responses to address local issues which are putting their young people at risk of breaking the law
  9. Provide an intensive, individualised therapeutic response for those in detention
  10. Give priority support to those most vulnerable: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people and children in the care of the State.

https://www.yac.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Orange-Paper-2_Election-2020-final.pdf

Young people are denied a voice in the democratic process and are reliant on adults for ensuring that their views are heard and considered. We anticipate that legislative amendments will be put before Parliament on 23 February. Our Members of Parliament need to know that not everyone supports the government’s proposed action. 

Please contact your local State member to let them know your views. You should also be able to send a submission to the Parliamentary Committee which should review the legislation prior to its finalisation in Parliament. We will let you know how to access this if the normal Committee process is followed. You are welcome to use any of the material in this YoY, in whole or in part, when providing your feedback.

It would be great if you could let us know if you take action and what the response was.

Kind regards

Janet Wight

CEO  | Youth Advocacy Centre Inc.