Nationals Urge Youth Crime Law Changes
The New South Wales Nationals have accused the State Government of not doing enough to combat juvenile crime in country areas.
Nationals' leader Andrew Stoner says violent attacks in country towns, such as the recent one on a 17-year-old in Griffith, are becoming more common.
He says current laws, which allow young offenders to be given warnings before they are dealt with more seriously, are contributing to the problem.
Source: ABC News Online, Friday, January 7th, 2007. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2007-01-05/nationals-urge-youth-crime-law-changes/2166130
"In particular, under the Youth Offenders Act of 1997 there seems to be an increase in repeat juvenile crime," Mr Stoner said.
"Most of this antisocial behaviour is committed by a core of repeat offenders.
"These are the ones for whom the Young Offenders Act is simply not working."
PM - NSW Youth Crime on the Rise
MARK COLVIN: There was a degree of shock in Sydney last week when two 14-year old girls were charged with murder over the death of a taxi driver. They also face aggravated robbery, car theft, and armed robbery charges.
Earlier this year, a court in Britain sentenced a 16-year old girl to jail for her part in a series of what are called "happy slapping" attacks.
Fellow gang members had attacked eight people, including one man who was beaten to death. She was 14 at the time of the offences and took particular delight in filming the assaults on her mobile phone.
Taken alone, these incidents might have been explained as anomalies involving youths and extreme crime but now it appears that figures from New South Wales are backing up perceptions that more young people are becoming involved in violent crime.
Barney Porter has the story.
BARNEY PORTER: The trend has become apparent after a closer look at routine figures collected by the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, which in turn have come from police reports of assault.
The Bureau's Director, Don Weatherburn, says the 10 to 14 year age group has recorded the biggest jump, going from 175 incidents per 100,000 population in 1995 to 487 in 2004. A rise he describes as very substantial.
The number is up for young men in that age group as well, but not as much.
Overall, the 15 to 17 group has also shown an increase, up from 567 incidents to 1,046 over the same period.
Mr Weatherburn says the exact reasons for the increases aren't immediately clear and will require more research, but he suggests more assaults may be coming to police attention.
DON WEATHERBURN: Not because victims of assault are more willing to report it to the police, the crime victim surveys don't suggest there's been much change at all in the willingness of victims to report.
But there may well have been an increase in the willingness of custodians or neighbours, for example teachers may have become more willing to call in police to assaults, or people who are involved in looking out for child maltreatment may be reporting it more.
They're just two of many possibilities to explore.
BARNEY PORTER: Professor Paul Wilson is a criminologist and forensic psychologist at Queensland's Bond University.
He believes on one level more young women are involved simply because they have more opportunity and are more exposed to what he's termed the drivers of crime, including heavy drinking and drug-taking.
But he also says there are social factors.
PAUL WILSON: I think that we have a society where people are, if you like, out for themselves and there's no real sense of community.
I have no doubts the increasing gaps between the haves and the have-nots is one of the drivers of youth crime, and one of the drivers particularly, I think, of female violence.
BARNEY PORTER: Dr Toni Makkai, the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, believes more young people have been exposed to risk factors in their early childhood: from abuse, to problems at school such as expulsion.
She's called for more emphasis to be placed on early intervention programs, where professionals work with young mothers identified as having poor parenting skills and help put in place support structures.
However, Dr Makkai has cautioned against resorting to simplistic stereotypes to argue the growing trends may be predetermined.
TONI MAKKAI: There are lots and lots of people out there who have children, who don't have as much money as other people, whose children go on and live very successful lives.
So, we always have to be very careful about how you apply this stuff, that you're sort of not deterministic in a sense.
But what these are showing is that these are risk factors which elevate your likelihood that this will happen.
MARK COLVIN: Dr Toni Makkai, ending that report by Barney Porter.
Source: ABC News Online, Friday, February 7th, 2006, http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2006/s1564620.htm