Minister outlines youth programs

Opening an Australian Institute of Criminology conference, Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor gave a good rundown of some projects nationwide – including some by the private sector – to help juveniles avoid becoming hardened criminals.

Minister outlines youth initiatives across nation

The Minister for Home Affairs and Justice has outlined initiatives across the nation aimed at ameliorating the problem of juveniles being over-represented in crime.

He was speaking at the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Young People, Risk and Resilience conference at the RACV Club in Melbourne on 8 March 2011. Here is a slightly abridge version of his speech:

I congratulate the Victorian Safe Communities Network and the Australian Institute of Criminology for organising the event.

It may go without saying that young people are valued by our community. Most are valued by families, their schools, their communities and are on a pathway where they will contribute to both personal, and national, growth and prosperity. 

But we know in this room that some young people are not so lucky. When we look at the statistics, they present a bleak outlook for a growing proportion of young Australians.

  • Currently, juveniles (10-17 year olds) are offending at the highest rate since 1996-97 – at 4,218 per 100,000 of the juvenile population.
  • The rate of female juvenile offenders has increased by 15% per year over the last two years.
  • In Queensland, of all individuals born in 1983/84 (that is, 27-28 year olds), 14% of them came into contact with the criminal justice system as juveniles. And alarmingly, of this cohort, 62% of Indigenous males came into contact with the police as juveniles.

While their crimes tend to be of the less serious variety, young people are consistently over-represented as offenders in all jurisdictions. And all of this has contributed to sustained community concern about juvenile offending.

This data provides a distinct contrast to the pattern for adult offenders, which has been declining at the rate of 3% per year over the last three years.  So we must ask ourselves, why the difference? Why is it that youth crime is increasing? This is not a good trend for young people in general who become stigmatised by the actions of a minority. But additionally, it is not a good trend for government or the policy makers that work in this area, and we need to take such trends seriously.

So the question stands – how best to tackle these issues? And how to get long term and sustainable improvement?

Governments of all persuasions, and all levels, provide resources to ensure that struggling families are supported and housed, children are educated, health education is provided, and training and job opportunities are made available. We are now more aware of critical developmental milestones of young people, and researchers and policymakers act on this knowledge to devise interventions accordingly. Yet, as the statistics I described indicate, too many young people come into adverse contact with the criminal justice system. 

Although many young people who have such contact go on to become law-abiding adults, a small ‘core’ repeatedly offend and become career criminals.

In some cases, young peoples’ families have been involved in crime for generations.  A recent article in The Canberra Times reported police statistics that revealed that 12 Canberra families are responsible for one-quarter of all property crime in the ACT.  Sensibly, the Federal Police are determined to intervene and work closely with the families involved to tackle this generational issue.

I know the participants at this conference all work, in one capacity or another, to ensure risks to young Australians are reduced, and to ensure that those who do come into contact with the criminal justice system are dealt with so that their experience in the system is not one that will cause reoffending.

Important work is also being undertaken to ensure that when risky behaviours, such as drug taking or dangerous driving occur, intervention follows by way of therapeutic or education programs, without the issue progressing through the courts. But what more can we, and should we, be doing?

  • strong responses to alcohol and drug abuse to reduce access
  • strong enforcement of road rules to reduce young people’s involvement in road trauma
  • early intervention and diversion strategies
  • collaboration and information sharing between justice, health, education and human services, and
  • education and awareness for young people about safety, legal rights and responsibilities.

Last July, I was pleased to launch the National Youth Policing Model to address youth violence and anti-social behaviour. This model was endorsed by all States and Territories. Policing and justice agencies worked together to identify six strategies for tackling youth crime and anti-social behaviour, which were:
national targeted policing to areas of greatest need

Within those strategies state, territory and federal policing and crime prevention initiatives are proving successful in preventing youth crime and anti-social behaviour in Australia.  And these are programs that can be replicated around the country.

Here for example, in my home state of Victoria, the Youth Justice Intensive Bail Supervision Pilot Program has been developed for those young people who come into contact with the Children’s Court.  The program provides support primarily to young men who appear before children’s courts and who are at immediate risk of remand.

Fifteen- to eighteen-year-old males are targeted due to their high numbers in youth justice remand in recent years. The program aims to divert these young men from remand and future involvement in the criminal justice system, and provides intensive bail supervision services in an effort to divert them from being sentenced to remand or from re-offending.       

But programs also need to target the underlying causes of youth crime. One such program is the new Youth Support Service. This service targets 10- to 18-year-olds and will operate across metropolitan Melbourne and in regional centres such as Ballarat, Geelong, and Shepparton. As part of the $22 million Youth Support Service, 35 youth workers based in eight community service organisations will provide outreach, early intervention and diversion services to assist young people achieve better life outcomes.  Victoria Police will identify and refer at-risk young people to the Youth Support Service in their local area.

The SCAR Program is a key service component of the Youth Support Service. It is a cognitive behaviour therapy delivered one-on-one to eligible young people – those referred by Victoria Police for carrying or using a controlled or prohibited weapon. The therapy sessions deal with an individual’s motivations for carrying weapons, and ways of deflecting this behaviour.

In Queensland there have also been positive developments since the endorsement of the Youth Policing Model. The Queensland Government is piloting a Drink Safe Precincts program to counter alcohol-related violence in Queensland’s entertainment areas.

Three Drink Safe precincts have been established in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, the Gold Coast and Townsville with increased police numbers during peak times, better supervised taxi zones, more support services, and the creation of special safe zones.  Legislation has also been introduced to provide a range of banning orders to restrict people from licensed premises and their vicinity to reduce the level of alcohol related violence and behaviour.

Alcohol-related violence around pubs and clubs was analysed by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and showed that more than half the assaults in the Sydney CBD occurred within 50 metres of a liquor outlet. Though age demographics were not included in this analysis, the report found that each additional alcohol outlet per hectare in the Sydney Local Government Area will result, on average 4.5 additional assaults per annum.  Such violence will inevitably have some effect on our youth and how they too react in similar environments.

In the Indigenous justice sphere, Cherbourg Police Division is considering introducing police rangers as a youth-based initiative to work with young people aged 12–18 years in this rural Indigenous community.  This would be similar to the program operating in WA, SA and the NT, which has been effective.

The Coordinated Response to Young People at Risk or CRYPAR program, is a whole of government initiative in partnership with Xstrata Coal Queensland. This aims to assist young people in addressing issues which are often identified as contributing factors in the development of criminal and self-harming tendencies and anti-social behaviour.  Xstrata is providing $5 million over three years for a state-wide expansion of CRYPAR and the creation of SupportLink, an e-referral pathway that supports the management of all referrals. 

In addition, police will now be able to link people with victim support counselling, support for parents, support following suicide, road trauma support, drug and alcohol support and elder abuse support. Many of the primary social support services within Queensland are now working with Police to receive referrals sent by officers via the SupportLink referral system. I believe this is a great example of the public and private sectors coming together to address common concerns.

In the ACT, there is extensive new work being done between the ACT Policing Drug & Alcohol Diversion Team and ACT Health’s Alcohol & Drug Program.  For example the ACT Police Liaison Team is engaged at all major regional events where youth are likely to attend.  During the Australia Day celebrations underage drinking and anti-social youth behaviour was targeted and 82 young persons were apprehended by Police and referred to the Early Intervention Pilot Program. 

ACT Policing has also developed and commenced the implementation of the ACT Policing Alcohol Diversion Program for Young People. Now that’s where the team is being beefed up with more personnel who will be responsible for educating police recruits and existing members, to promote awareness of the diversionary programs. 

The positions are also responsible for assisting the ACT Department of Education and Training to draft and deliver drug and alcohol education to school students in the ACT, which has been a longstanding program. And over 100 sworn police members have received team training in alcohol diversion.

Clearly, significant work is being undertaken to target critical risk areas for our young people. Not just because we want to end the violence, the anti-social behaviour and criminal conduct, but so we can turn lives around, so we can have more contributors and fewer detractors in our communities.

It’s in everyone’s interest that we succeed in reaching this goal.

As the Justice Minister, I am heartened by the response of the Australian Federal Police and state governments and their law enforcement agencies, in taking up the challenge of the National Youth Policing Model.

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