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‘Youth crime wave’ needs smart, complex responses, not hysteria

Crime Statistics Agency say youth crime on the decline

 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 way different.

The number of young people offending generally continues to decline. This is not only the case in Australia but also internationally in high income countries such as Canada, the USA and New Zealand. 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 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 over 100 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


Young People’s Legal Rights Centre (Youthlaw)


Call from youth peak to stop exclusions from schools


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.

Make a difference – Federal Election 2016

Did you know

  • 10,000 Victorian young people drop out of school completely each year
  • 6,117 do not have a home on any given night.
  • Over 7,000 were removed from their families last year due to abuse and neglect.
  • Last year one youth homeless service in Melbourne CBD had 7,211 visits from young people seeking help

Vote for candidates and parties that are for:

1. Federal funding support to implement the recommendations of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence.

2. Restoring & substantially increasing funding of community programs and services that engage with vulnerable young people ( eg mental health, substance abuse and homeless support services)

3. Significant Investment in public education & pathways, programs and supports for young people at risk of or disengaging with mainstream education.

4. Funding of employment assistance programs that pay real wages and policy that paves the way to real jobs

5. National spent convictions legislation to reduce life long impacts of having a criminal record.

6. Adoption and implementation of a justice reinvestment approach to policy and programs by both federal and state governments and funding of Justice Reinvestment pilots with a focus on early investment in vulnerable children and young people.

7. Reversal of funding cuts & increased funding to community legal centres (including Youthlaw) that assist the most vulnerable to protect & assert their legal rights.

IBAC decision highlights need for early independent investigation of police complaints

An investigation by IBAC of a police brutality and racism complaint by client Nassir Bare has resulted in IBAC deciding the complaint was unsubstantiated due to insufficient evidence.

“While pleased this complaint was finally independently investigated, the decision by IBAC in regard to Mr Bare is disappointing. It highlights the flaws in a system that did not provide any initial independent investigation when the complaint was first made. Our client’s version of events, of being brutalised and racially abused by police officers has not changed in the 7 years it has taken to get it independently investigated,” said Director of Youthlaw, Ariel Couchman.

“Mr Bare is a courageous young man who spoke out about his experience and continued to request investigation all these years, not only to bring the officers involved to account but to benefit other young people who are too afraid to make complaints.”

The decision of the Court of Appeal still stands and calls into question the police complaints investigation system in Victoria.

“We call on the state government to establish a victim-centred independent body, whether this be an expanded IBAC or a new body, to investigate complaints against police”.

“Until this occurs the number of complaints against police will remain small, as most complaints are still referred back to Victoria Police to investigate. Police who abuse their powers will continue to undermine the good work and practice of their colleagues, and the community will not be confident that justice is being served.” said Ms Couchman.

For further media comment please contact:
Ariel Couchman, Youthlaw Director 0438812937
Tiffany Overall, Advocacy and Human Rights Officer 0400903034