Crime prevention

18.28 While the terms of reference of this Inquiry do not include specific consideration of crime prevention programs, youth crime must be seen in the context of the family, geographic, cultural and educational circumstances that affect children’s behaviour and opportunities.[62]

Reducing welfare benefits, cutting expenditure on education, disbanding family counselling and related support services, and failing to resolve problems such as housing and unemployment are sure ways of encouraging the incidence of juvenile crime.[63]

…increasingly there is a recognition that the focus of the juvenile justice system on the misdeeds of the child to the exclusion of their context inevitably results in repeated offending behaviour.[64]

18.29 For many teenagers minor offending is a means of testing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour as they adjust to their emerging responsibilities and changing position in society.[65] For other young people involvement in the juvenile justice system is the culmination of a history of deprivation and disadvantage.

For many disenfranchised and marginalised young people, it seems, illegal activity of various kinds is increasingly being seen as simply part and parcel of economic survival — a routine way of managing one’s day-to-day living expenses.[66]

18.30 A recent survey of 400 young people aged 14 to 17 conducted for the Australian Youth Foundation found that a significant proportion of juvenile crime was committed to supplement income or obtain money for survival.[67] Many of the participants referred to crime as ‘a way to get by’.

I was just shoved right out of home [after he came out to his parents] I really didn’t have a job and like it was 13 weeks to that dole that I had to wait, and sort of well the only thing was prostitution.[68]

18.31 All Australian governments must direct resources into developing effective juvenile crime prevention programs to ensure community safety and to stop young people from getting caught in an escalating cycle of offending. These could include primary and secondary education modules, early intervention programs and family support schemes.[69] However, these programs must be carefully structured to avoid a risk of net-widening, that is, of identifying ever larger numbers of young people as ‘at risk’ and bringing them under community and government scrutiny.[70]

18.32 Adequate community support must also be provided to disadvantaged young people. For example, the Australian Red Cross provides a supported accommodation service for young women under 19 who are pregnant or have children and who have inadequate family support.[71] Many of the service’s clients are referred by juvenile justice agencies. Adequate support for young people involved in the juvenile justice system is also important to prevent recidivism.[72]

[62] K Wimshurst & R Homel ‘The primary prevention of juvenile crime’ in A Borowski & I O’Connor (eds) Juvenile Crime, Justice and Corrections Longman Sydney 1997.

[63] M Findlay, S Odgers & S Yeo Australian Criminal Justice Oxford University Press Melbourne 1994, 266.

[64] I O’Connor ‘Models of juvenile justice’ Paper Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice: Towards 2000 and Beyond AIC Conference Adelaide 26–27 June 1997, 1.

[65] B Howard et al Public Hearing Submission Wagga Wagga 8 May 1996.

[66] R White ‘The business of youth crime prevention’ in P O’Malley & A Sutton (eds) Crime Prevention in Australia: Issues in Policy and Research Federation Press Sydney 1997, 166.

[67] R White et al Any Which Way You Can: Youth Livelihoods, Community Resources and Crime Australian Youth Foundation Sydney 1997, 58. The main types of criminal activity engaged in for money were theft and drug dealing: 57.

[68] id 60.

[69] Steetwize Comics is a national youth information service based in Sydney. Since 1984 it has been producing and distributing educational comics to people who are not easily reached by other agencies or strategies such as those with low levels of literacy, young people in rural and remote areas, young people with disabilities and young gay men and lesbians: IP Submission 111. The Crime Prevention Division of the NSW Attorney-General’s Dept has recently funded Streetwize Comics to prepare a comic concerning crime prevention aimed at children 12 to 13 year olds.

[70] This potential for the criminal justice system to ‘creep’ into more children’s lives through crime reduction strategies is examined in D Palmer & R Walters ‘Crime prevention camps for youth ‘at risk’: Blurring the boundaries of care and control’ in C Simpson & R Hil (eds) Ways of Resistance: Social Control and Young People in Australia Hale & Iremonger Sydney 1995.

[71] Australian Red Cross (NSW Division) DRP Submission 42.

[72] See paras 19.24-25, 20.128-137.