Queensland’s youth crime crisis

The “tough on crime” debate continues in Queensland as youth crime rises. Many communities have been affected by the seemingly growing rate of juvenile crime, with the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and governments scrambling to keep it down.

The state and federal governments continue to argue about tough and soft approaches to youth offending, pushing funding into organisations located in higher crime rate suburbs.

Youth service organisations are taking a soft approach by providing support to those in unstable and unsafe environments to reduce the opportunity for crime.

YMCA is a well-known organisation that provides services to young people like vocational school programs, free meals, and mentoring to assist with education and employment. YMCA Mango Hill Community Centre community coordinator Kelly McGrath said she wants to see more free, accessible and inclusive activities targeted at youth to decrease opportunities for involvement in crime.

“We have a Thursday night outreach program in conjunction with Westfield shopping centre, for late night shopping, as a diversionary program to divert them from the shopping centre,” Ms McGrath said.

The YMCA centres are seeing increased use in their services, keeping young people out of trouble, connecting them with positive role models and providing a safe space without too much authority.

Moreton Bay Regional Councillor Yvonne Barlow said there were plenty of youth activities and areas for people to socialise, but the criminal juveniles were not interested in using them. She said they were wilfully and maliciously damaging them.

“Do we want to create more of a problem?” Ms Barlow said. “Whose fault is it? Is it the Council’s fault? No.

“It is society’s fault, with parents and [youth] not having the same… the word’s not fear… but if I did something wrong I would have to face my parents and get into trouble.”

Many government and community organisations are doing work to assist in reducing youth crime, however no implemented strategy has been completely successful.

Offenders under 17 years old committed almost 10 per cent of offending in the 2016-17 financial year, and five years later youth offenders account for almost 12 per cent.

In 2020, the top three youth crimes were unlawful entry with intent, acts intended to cause injury, and property damage and environmental pollution.

Youth crime is becoming more dangerous with almost a quarter of youth offenders in 2020 charged with acts intended to cause injury, up 13% from 2019.

Statistics show that juvenile crime is currently peaking in late adolescence, and slightly earlier for females compared to males.

Despite the current increase in youth crime, a potential drop could be expected with the continuing decline in the young population.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said Australia has an aging population due to lower fertility rates and an increase in life expectancy, which is reflected by the 20-year decline in the population of children across Queensland.

In February 2021 QPS started the Youth Justice Taskforce, working closely with multiple agencies to intervene and rehabilitate high risk repeat youth offenders.

They have seen reductions in juvenile offenders’ exposure to domestic and family violence, an increase in child protection orders and a decline in substance and alcohol abuse.

With 10 per cent of youth accounting for 48 per cent of crime, the Palaszczuk Government also introduced a $98.4 million GPS tracking trial through Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) to address repeat offenders in March 2021.

However, the “tough on crime” trial has been called a failure by members of Parliament, with only three people fitted with the GPS monitoring devices, despite over 400 known recidivist youth offenders.

LNP Member for Ninderry Dan Purdie said he was pushing for tougher youth laws.

“At the moment in Queensland not one juvenile offender is wearing a GPS device because they need to consent to wearing it, they need to consent to recharging it every eight hours and the police actually need to give them a free phone to link with the GPS tracking device,” Mr Purdie said in Parliament. “It was never going to work.”