Introduction - Youth Crime


Juvenile Justice Leaflet 

The subject of youth crime has been one of much public debate over the last few years.  Statistics demonstrate that many youths who resort to crime face serious social and economic marginalisation. Justice Action believes that major changes have to be made to the current youth justice system in order to combat these ongoing concerns. 

As confirmed by The Australian Institute of Criminology’s Trends and Issues, child abuse and neglect are often the precursors to youth involvement in crime. Australian Institute of Criminology Director, Dr Adam Graycar, maintains: "a growing body of research evidence drawn from studies of individual families suggests that economic and social stress exert their effects on crime by disrupting the parenting process."

Continued funding should not be given to juvenile detention centres; rather, the underlying systemic inequalities that youth offenders face needs to be addressed.  Tax dollars should instead be redirected towards furthering youth education; rehabilitation programs for young offenders; housing initiatives; and creating community centres and after-school initiatives, amongst various other things.   This is the only way to combat youth crime before it starts.  Click here for detailed proposals for mentoring and justice reinvestment

Beyond Bars - Youth Crime

Are young people becoming more dangerous?
There has been no significant increase in juvenile crime over the past 2 years and serious juvenile crime appears to be decreasing.  Although it is difficult to draw conclusions based on short term crime statistics (see crime statistics fact sheet) there have been a number of what appear to be significant decreases in certain kinds of juvenile crime over the last few years.  The number of Children's Court appearances for manslaughter decreased by 88%, aggravated sexual assault decreased by 18% and aggravated robbery decreased by 16% between 1999/00 and 2000/01.  There also appears to have been a sharp decline over the last three years in the number of young people appearing before court on drug offences. (DJJ Annual report, 2002-2003)

The reoffending rate of juvenile offenders who went through Youth Conferencing was found to be 24% lower than the rate for those who went to court.  Although it is hard to draw concrete conclusions from short term shifts in crime statistics, the idea that young people are becoming progressively more dangerous, is certainly challenged by these figures.

Who is at risk of being a victim of crime?
It is often assumed that older people are the population group most vulnerable to crime.  However, it is people between 15-24 years of age who are most likely to be the victim of a crime.  People aged 65 and over are in fact the least likely to be the victim of a personal crime. In 1999, 10% of all young people experienced a crime against their person, whereas, in the same year only 1% of the elderly population experienced a personal crime. 

Will 'tougher' penalties for young offenders decrease crime?
Tough penalties do not address the systemic social and health problems underlying juvenile offending. Poverty and neglect are the strongest predictors of juvenile crime and these are not addressed by punitive responses to crime.   An increase of 1000 in the numbers of children subject to neglect could be expected to result in an additional 256 young people involved in crime. Putting resources into social service programs, programs to improve school retention rates, and programs to improve literacy would have a much more profound impact on lowering the crime rate than implementing harsh penalties.

In fact, severe penalties are associated with an increased likelihood of a juvenile re-offending. For example, in the period 1986 to 1994, only 12.4% of young people appearing in the Children's Court who received a nominal penalty re-offended.  The recidivism rate increased to 79.3% of offenders who received a custodial order.  In other words penalties that were 'less harsh' decreased the likelihood of re-offending.

Are youth gangs a problem in Australia?
Concern over youth gangs is an import from the United States. In Australia there are very few organised youth gangs.  Young people generally act alone or in pairs. Most juvenile crime is episodic, transitory, local, unplanned, and not repeated.  70% of young people who offend once and appear in court do not subsequently reappear.

Why are so many young Aboriginal people in custody?
Police target Aboriginal young people, especially in country areas.  This has resulted in a situation of continuing and increasing over-representation of Aboriginal children in custody.  In the early 1990's, 26% of children in custody were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.  In 1999 the figure had grown to 34% of the total population, and  in 2002 it was on average 39%.(DJJ Annual report, 2002-2003)

Social and economic circumstances such as poverty, discrimination, child abuse, drug addiction and exclusion from education make Aboriginal young people both more visible and more vulnerable to involvement in the criminal justice system, and significantly more likely to be targets of police attention.

Are young people 'running wild'?
Research has shown that 80% of young people have been stopped and spoken to by the police at some stage. The proportions for Aboriginal and 'marginal' youth are higher - 94% and 96% respectively. A report released by the Ombusdman in 1999 showed that young people are far more likely than adults to be searched and moved on by police. 

Some research suggests that violence, threats and intimidation are routine aspects of street policing with particular groups of young people. In a recent report 78% of young people reported that police never, or only sometimes treat them with respect. 

Perceptions of young people as 'criminal' and dangerous can be reinforced by disrespectful policing and the over surveillance of marginalised young people. 

If we are serious about addressing youth crime, we need to also be serious about addressing the issues that make young people vulnerable to involvement in the criminal justice system.  Whilst policing strategies are one area for consideration, it is also crucial to address the complicated and connected causes of the entanglement of certain groups of young people with the criminal justice system.

The Juvenile Justice System

The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) manages young offenders by means of supervision within the community or within Juvenile Justice Centres under remand or control (sentenced) orders. Under the Children's (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987 and associated legislation, young offenders are defined as aged between 10 and 18 years. Depending on the security and risk level of a detainee, offenders can be transferred into the adult correctional system when they turn 18 years of age, though in special circumstances older offenders may remain in the care of DJJ.

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Computers in Juvenile Cells

Computers in Juvenile Cells
The lack of access to technology for juveniles in detention centres has been said to be a “significant shortfall” in relation to prisoner education. While all jurisdictions officially mention the importance of education for youth offenders in detention, no jurisdiction has implemented computers in cells that would allow it to effectively happen. But it is much more than that. It lessens the social isolation using modern technology. Education is mandatory and teens are digital natives. It replaces passive TV watching.  It gives them access to family, peers, external authorities, and counselling in a safe and efficient way. Furthermore, “more use needs to be made of diagnostically detailed individual learning plans linked to rehabilitation plans.”

Justice Action presented the following to the 6th National Juvenile Justice Summit:
JA Juvenile Justice Summit Leaflet
Juvenile Justice Summit Agenda 4-5 May 2017

Expert opinions on computers in cells:
University of Southern Queensland Presentation
Prison PC Report

Counselling using computers in cells allow the detainees to properly use the up to eighteen hours a day they spend in bored isolation. Furthermore, external providers of therapies generate greater trust and choice and provide a sense of stability through the detention and after release, and youth receive some empowerment and self-management through these services. Research also indicates that online counselling for inmates is actually more effective than face to face counselling, and it is relatively cheap.

The ACT adult system has had computers in cells with access to the internet through a safe server for the past nine years.
(See our adult computers in cells page)

The aim of the juvenile detention is supposed to be the rehabilitation of the juvenile offenders. A key part of this rehabilitation is education, which can be facilitated by the provision of computers into the cells of prisoners. Education of youth offenders also works to reduce rates of recidivism. It is now commonplace that most educational courses require access to a computer and this provides a significant barrier to education for detainees.

Our proposal is that providing detainees with computers in their cells would allow them easy access to education, counselling, legal resources and communication with family members and will decrease rates of recidivism. Access to computers is the “natural tool in relation to expanding access to various educational options outside prisons.” A safe server system costs only $230 000 for installation in a large prison. 

ABC News Articles - Youth Crime

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

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Juvenile Justice Resources

Valuable NSW Research Publications and Resources

The following is a listing of resources that are very well researched and go beyond the hype given in most publications dealing with youth crime and violence. Whilst they may not be applicable in your geographic location they could probably give a better representation of the realities than most documentation put out by your local law enforcement bodies.

For Further Information, contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Report number 8 1995, Standing Committee on Social Issues,
Legislative Council, Parliament of N.S.W. (387 pages A4 )
Inquiries to:
The Secretariat
Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues Parliament House
Macquarie Street Sydney N.S.W. 2000, Australia.
Phone (02) 9230 3078 Fax (02) 230 2981


Crime Prevention Division, Attorney General's Department. 1996. 88 pages.
(as with the report above this is one of the best)
(Deals mainly with public perceptions of juvenile crime.)

Inquiries: Crime Prevention Division N.S.W. Attorney General's Department Level 19, Goodsell Building 8-12 Chifley SquareN.S.W. 2000
GPO Box 6 Sydney 2001 Australia

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