• Media release – Thursday 21 July 2016

    Community lawyers participating in today’s Chief Commissioner’s Youth Summit have warned that language used to describe valid concerns over youth crime can divert efforts away from real solutions and fuel calls for inappropriate responses that undermine rather than promote community safety.

    ‘We need to avoid ideas around youth crime that suggest a large-scale criminal enterprise perpetrated by a specific group, when it’s more likely small groups of problem offenders who commit crime for a diverse range of social and economic factors, including disengagement with school, exposure to abuse and violence, and significant disadvantage,’ said Ariel Couchman, Director of Youthlaw, today.

    Couchman said data from the Crime Statistics Agency (CSA) in fact demonstrated a decline in youth offenders and youth offences, particularly among 10–14 year-olds, despite a concentration of offending among a smaller group of offenders.

     More broadly, CSA data showed the number of unique offenders aged 10–17 had declined by 42 per cent in Victoria since 2009–10, with the number of 18–20 year olds committing offences dropping by 20 per cent over the same period.

     A Sentencing Advisory Council report released yesterday has also found ‘there has been a decline of approximately 43 per cent in the number of children sentenced in the Children’s Court over the six years to 31 December 2015’.

    ‘While to some degree media coverage around these issues has referred to the need to tackle the causes of crime, and suggested solutions broader than a policing response, there has been a wider tabloid narrative of youth ‘out of control’, ‘chaos’ on the streets, youth offenders ‘swarming’ via social media and offenders as ‘wannabe gangsters’,’ Couchman said.

    ‘If we want to take a perspective based on the evidence, we need to go beyond sensational use of language and portraying extreme but uncommon examples as if they represent a pervasive risk to the community.’

    Couchman welcomed measures by the Victorian Government to examine broader solutions, and the willingness of Victoria Police to recognise the causes of crime and to listen to young people on why they feel ‘locked out’ of society. However, she warned that media responses needed to acknowledge the complexity of the problem and its causes rather than reflect a simplistic law and order crackdown mentality.

    ‘The voices important in the framing of solutions to these issues are the voices of young people themselves and of those who work with them, not the tabloid media,’ Couchman said.

    ‘We are not going to solve this problem through punitive sanctions that come after crime has already occurred – we need to tackle the social challenges that drive offending in the first place,’ she concluded.

    The Chief Commissioner’s Youth Summit is being held today at the MCG with the participation of a range of experts, advocates and community sector organisations, including Youthlaw.

     

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    We have all seen the alarming reports in the media about youth brawls, carjacking and aggravated burglaries that have grown over the past 18 months in parts of Melbourne. There is no doubt this offending is disturbing and threatening to the general public.
    Any public survey right now would no doubt come up with a consensus that we are in the grip of a youth crime epidemic and that we have a generation of youth out of control.
    The reality is very different. In the last few days both the Sentencing Advisory Council and the Crimes Statistic Agency have released independent reports that show that the number of children offending has declined significantly over recent years and that there is no evidence of a widespread increase in the number of child offenders.

    Offending by 10 to14 year olds in Victoria has steadily declined over the past 10 years. At Youthlaw we know this is particularly significant as offending at this age is a strong predictor of future repeat offending and imprisonment.
    Even the normally expected peak in youth offending in the mid to late teens attributed to brain, hormonal & social development is on the decline in our state. The Victorian Crimes Statistics Agency confirms that since 2009-10 there has been a 42 percent decrease in the number of unique offenders aged 10-17 years. The number of 18-20 year olds committing offences has dropped by 20 per cent.
    Researchers and crime statisticians suggest we now have a generation characterised by less risky behaviour. They are more secure, using fewer drugs and more engaged in education than previous generations.
    Presumably it’s not so exciting to report on a youth generation that is well behaved or to explore why it is that a small group of youth are engaging in high risk offending.
    But it is clear that the offending that has achieved the fearful headlines of recent times, while distressing for those involved, is being committed by a relatively small number of young people, each doing a lot of offending. Even within this cohort, only a small number are committing the more alarming personal violence offences.
    Victoria Police have a good handle on this group and the offences they are committing and are responding with intelligent and effective policing. They have targeted resources to respond to it and are consulting with experts. They have already arrested 118 offenders. They recognise the wider group as vulnerable and are working with government and agencies on ways to intervene early to prevent future offending.
    So who are the offenders? Police say they largely reflect the multicultural diversity of the community and many of the complexities across it. Many have dropped out of school and are estranged from their families. Motivations include anger and lack of hope, feeling locked out of society, having bad stuff going on at home, and the thrill that comes with the exertion of power and being part of a peer group and of getting access to money. Most live in areas of very high youth employment and disadvantage. Some are from very dysfunctional families. Some have disengaged from school as early as primary school.
    What would help? The view of some of these young people (including those in detention) is insightful. They say more support for them and their families, not being judged, banning expulsion from school, and help for them and their families in getting a job.
    Government, police and community leaders have met to share our expertise on how best to respond. Much is already happening. There is strong agreement that early intervention in school is a key, as is targeted mentoring & support. It is recognised that there are insufficient services and long waiting lists and this needs to be addressed. It is recognised that many young people from multicultural backgrounds feel marginalised.
    We also need leadership to allay public fear and to outline the real facts. We don’t need screaming headlines such as ‘Youth crime rate soaring’ or ‘Youth crime crisis’ or commentary that ‘youth crime is one of the biggest social and legal challenges facing Victoria’.
    We also need to consider the broader vulnerable youth population that we miss in this hysteria.
    • A staggering 10,000 vulnerable children who are dropping out of Victorian high schools, training and apprenticeships every year.
    • Over 7,000 young Victorians removed from their families last year due to abuse and neglect.
    • 6,117 young Victorians who do not have a home on any given night.
    • The impact on young people of an unemployment rate for 15 to 24-year-olds that is now 12.5 per cent, but in disadvantaged areas up to 17 per cent.

    Ariel Couchman
    Director
    Young People’s Legal Rights Centre (Youthlaw)

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    The Youth Affairs Council of Victoria (YACVic0 has just released a fantastic report ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind? on school exclusion which calls on Gov’t to address the enormous number of young people who are being excluded from school through suspension, expulsion, reduced attendance, refusal of enrolment, and being ‘asked to leave’ a school.

    The report highlights the appalling lack of data available, the impact of exclusion on already vulnerable young people and provides loads of examples and recommendations for change .

    In Victoria up to 10,000 young people drop out of school completely each year. Some as early as primary school.

    These young people are overwhelmingly vulnerable before this occurs. They are being pushed out, out of sight. Schools are under a lot of pressure to deliver good scores and get rid of underperforming kids. They don’t have sufficient funding & resources. Many have adopted harsh disciplinary and exclusionary policies.

    See the YACVIC report here.

    Youthlaw strongly supports YACVic’s stand on this issue & it’s recommendations. Early intervention in the education setting is a no brainer and will reduce enormous negative impacts that flow from vulnerable young people not receiving the support they need. This includes their mental & physical well-being, capacity to lead a fulfilling and positive life and broader costs to society of homelessness, mental ill-health, drug abuse and engagement in the criminal justice system.

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