Queensland Parliament has passed new reforms to crack down on repeat juvenile offenders in an attempt to curb youth crime.
New laws aimed at tackling youth crime in Queensland have been passed that will see tougher penalties for juvenile offenders, including allowing the names of repeat offenders to be published by the media.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie says the reforms are an attempt to stop the ‘revolving door’ of repeat offending.
“We now have a cohort of young offenders with shocking, serious criminal histories before they’re old enough to get their L plates,” says Bleijie. “Last year 400 young people were charged with more than 7000 offences while on bail.”
The reforms include a new offence for breach of bail; making all juvenile criminal histories available in adult courts to provide magistrates and judges full understanding of a defendant’s history; removing detention as a last resort to give courts more discretion in sentencing; transferring juvenile offenders to adult correctional centres when they reach 17 years of age if there are six or more months remaining of their sentence; and making the identity of repeat offenders available for publishing in the media.
“Under these reforms, the identities of repeat offenders will be allowed to be published, making them more accountable for their actions and setting a strong deterrent for further offending,” says Bleijie. “Some reporting restrictions will remain. Publishing the identities of first time offenders will continue to be prohibited and the court will have the discretion to close certain proceedings.
“Kids can make mistakes. That’s why we are still giving them a chance to clean up their act but there should be consequences if they don’t learn their lesson.”
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) Queensland convenor Benedict Coyne says the reforms violate human rights obligations and will also be ineffective in tackling youth crime.
“Australia’s basic human rights obligations to the international community include the use of the child’s best interests as a guiding principle; the use of detention as a last resort only; non-publication of a juvenile’s details at all times; and diversion from formal court processes where possible,” says Coyne. “A more responsible and cost-effective approach would be the introduction of proven and effective early intervention programs and the re-introduction of restorative justice approaches previously cut by the Newman government.
“Once again these legal reforms by the Newman government comprise another potentially massive waste of taxpayers’ money in its purported ‘tough-on-crime’ agenda.”
Bleijie says the new laws are necessary in making repeat offenders more accountable for their actions.
“Many of these reforms specifically target repeat offenders, not kids who make a silly mistake and learn from it,” Bleijie says. “An emerging pattern is that a small percentage of young people are responsible for a high percentage of offences committed. A strong deterrent was needed to get the message through to this minority.
“Our tough, necessary and fair reforms will make recidivist offenders more accountable for their actions but will also provide opportunities for them to turn their lives around.”
These opportunities come in the form of mandatory boot camps that aim to teach participants discipline and self-respect.
“Young people whose behaviour is putting them at risk of entering the criminal justice system should be given a real chance at rehabilitation and supported to make positive life decisions,” says Bleijie. “That is why the we have introduced the Youth Boot Camp program trial which includes Early Intervention Camps on the Gold Coast, Fraser/Sunshine Coast and Rockhampton and a combined Sentenced Youth Boot Camp for Cairns and Townsville.
“Early indications are that these boot camps are proving effective in changing young people’s behaviour.”
ALHR’s Coyne disagrees and says the tough approach and boot camp fix will fail to curb juvenile offenses and may even exacerbate the problem of crime in the community.
“There is mountainous empirical data that the proposed reforms, including mandatory detention, naming-and-shaming and boot camps, simply will not work,” he says. “There is strong evidence that naming-and-shaming a child will severely diminish any prospects of rehabilitation as it may lead to exclusion of that child from the community and may affect their potential to obtain employment, which are widely-recognised as key risk factors for recidivism.
“Mandatory sentencing of juveniles has been shown to be ineffective, the tough on crime approach fails to reduce rates of recidivism, and the naming of young offenders will not assist rehabilitation or reduce crime.”
He urges the Newman government to reconsider the reforms and instead re-implement early intervention and prevention remedies.
“That would be a much smarter use of taxpayer’s dollars,” says Coyne.