COMMUNITY CONSULTATION ON YOUNG REPEAT OFFENDERS by decree

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									           COMMUNITY CONSULTATION ON YOUNG REPEAT OFFENDERS
                          WRITTEN SUBMISSION

Organisation: Minister’s Youth Council

The Minister‘s Youth Council thanks the Social Inclusion Board for the opportunity to
contribute to this consultation. Like the Social Inclusion Board, we are deeply
concerned with the issue of repeat offending by young people in South Australia.

Although the Council has sought to contribute to the questions posed by the Social
Inclusion Board, we are deeply concerned by the absence of proposed policy or
legislation provided to those participating in this consultation. It is particularly difficult for
members of the community to participate when they are not fully acquainted with the
necessary background information. While the Social Inclusion Board‘s website
contained documents relating to previous consultations, as well as the Strategic
Governance Framework for Young Offenders, there was no information provided as to
the changes eluded to in the questions below.

In particular, the Minister‘s Youth Council wishes to be informed as to:
    1. How this consultation links to previous consultations by the Social Inclusion
        Board?
    2. What research has been undertaken in the two years following the initial 2004
        consultation?
    3. How suggested changes, such as applying harsher penalties to adults who
        commit offences with young people and trying young people adults for certain
        offenders, were decided upon?
    4. How the outcomes of this consultation will inform government decision-making?
        And
    5. Whether community organisations and government agencies will have the
        opportunity to further comment on specific changes to legislation and policy
        surrounding the issue of repeat offending by young people?

We look forward to receiving the results of the Social Inclusion Board‘s consultation
process, and participating in the next round of consultations.

About the Organisation:

The Minister’s Youth Council is a group of 16 young people aged between 12 and 25,
who provide advice to the Minister for Youth, the Hon. Paul Caica MP, on issues
affecting young people in South Australia. The Council comprises young people from a
diverse range of socio-economic backgrounds, young people from rural and regional
South Australia, young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
and Aboriginal young people.

What do you think are the issues leading to repeat offending by some young
people?

The Minister‘s Youth Council believes that a range of issues commonly lead to repeat
offending by some young people, including family breakdown, socio-economic
disadvantage, social dislocation, mental illness, and the mainstream media‘s portrayal
of young people. Some of these major issues will be outlined below.

Young people who are disengaged from their families or other support networks, such
as employment or education, are likely to look elsewhere for social support.
Unfortunately, in some cases, this support may be found within groups of adults or
other young people who are involved in criminal behaviour. The Council suggests that


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if first-time young offenders are not rehabilitated back into education, employment or
other social networks, they are more likely to re-offend.

The Council also believes that young people may seek to re-offend simply because the
juvenile justice system provides a form of ‗security‘ and structure which may not exist in
other aspects of their lives. If young people have little hope that they can find support
networks or structures in other areas, they are more likely to re-offend in order to
remain part of the juvenile justice system. The Council suggests that particularly
vulnerable groups of young people, including those under the Guardianship of the
Minister, Indigenous young people, young people suffering from mental illness or drug
dependence, and those from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds, are more likely
to seek the security and structure of the juvenile justice system through repeat
offending.

The Council suggests that if young offenders do not have access to positive role
models in their lives, they are more likely to seek out negative role models, such as
those who repeatedly engage in criminal behaviour. It is vitally important to present
young people with a range of diverse and positive role models through mentoring
schemes and skill development programs.

Finally, the Council believes that repeat offending by young people is strongly
encouraged by mainstream media coverage. The often-hysterical tone taken by
mainstream media outlets when reporting on young people who offend has two results,
neither of which is positive. Firstly, publication in the media encourages young
offenders to view their crimes as a ―badge of honour‖, that is, something to be proud of
and to repeat. Secondly, being labelled as a criminal in the media can create the
impression in young people that there is no chance for them to break out of the cycle of
offending. If society, through the media, has already labelled certain young people as
thugs and hoons, many will simply ask, why not live up to the stereotype?


What do you think is working well now, or has worked well in the past, to halt the
cycle of offending by young repeat offenders?

In the absence of detailed information as to current or past practices in the juvenile
justice system, it is particularly difficult for the Minister‘s Youth Council to answer this
question in detail.

However, the Council believes that the only way to break the cycle of repeat offending
is to find ways to motivate and challenge young people to take up different lifestyles.
While it may seem counterproductive to provide incentives to encourage young people
to move away from criminal behaviour, putting young people in juvenile detention
clearly does not currently seem to be halting the cycle of repeat offending.

Training schemes, community service or other skill-development programs should
continue to be part of young people‘s detention periods in order to engage these young
offenders and encourage them to feel that they can and should be part of a positive
society.

The Council also applauds innovative schemes such as those where young people
who have, for example, been involved in car theft, are required to undertake training to
repair and restore vehicles. In this way, the victims of car theft are recompensed while
the young person develops skills to make them more legally employable.

Finally, the Council believes that greater emphasis on dealing with the causes of
criminal behaviour in individual young people is necessary. In order to prevent


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generations of South Australians continuing with criminal behaviour, the juvenile justice
system must take opportunities while individuals are young to encourage them away
from crime. Naturally, such an approach requires more individual treatment of each
young person, and is thus likely to be more resource intensive.

What do you think can be done to address repeat offending by young people?

Once again, the absence of any proposed policy or legislation makes it difficult for the
Council to comment on strategies to address repeat offending by young people.
Nevertheless, in principle, the Council believes that encouraging young people away
from all criminal behaviour—both initial and repeat offending—needs to be the focus of
any initiatives. As juvenile offenders are at an age where they are forming life-long
opinions and values, it is essential not only to punish young people for their behaviour,
but to instil in them an understanding of the impact that their illegal behaviour has on
the victim and the wider community. In order to achieve this understanding, the Council
suggests that young people must become more directly involved in the community
around them through education, training, employment and social networks. Taking this
approach will more readily break the cycle of crime and reduce the likelihood that
repeat juvenile offenders become adult offenders.

While the Council believes that young offenders, like adults, need to take responsibility
for their illegal behaviour, we do not agree that placing young offenders in long-term
detention can break the cycle of crime. Long-term periods of jail or juvenile detention
only reduce the young person‘s chances of becoming involved in alternative, positive
behaviour such as education or employment.

What more do you think can be done to address victims’ needs?

The Council is of the understanding that in addition to victims‘ own insurance, the State
Government already has in place a strong system of compensation for victims of crime.

Furthermore, the Council believes that although there are some victims whose only
desire is to see offenders punished, there are many victims who seek understanding of
the impact that criminal behaviour has had on their lives. By providing mechanisms for
young offenders and victims to meet face-to-face, or for offenders to be presented with
victim impact statements, young offenders can appreciate the impact of their
behaviour, while victims may have their story heard.

While the Council believes that it is important to find ways for young offenders to
appreciate the impact that their behaviour has on others, we also recognise the
difficulties inherent in this approach. In particular, the Council understands the
necessity of protecting both victims‘ and young offenders‘ privacy and safety, as well as
ensuring that criminal charges be decided impartially and independent of victim impact
statements.

The Government has also suggested legislation to enable courts to apply
harsher penalties to adults who commit offences in company with juveniles or
who encourage juveniles to commit offences. What are your views about this
change?

Once again however, the absence of proposed legislation makes it particularly difficult
for the Council to comment in detail on this proposed change. Nevertheless, while the
Council supports, in principle, the application of harsher penalties to adults who
encourage young people to commit offences, we do not believe that this measure deals
at all adequately with the issue of repeat offending by young people.




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Rather than dealing only with the outcomes of criminal behaviour, the State
Government needs to find ways of encouraging people to avoid criminal behaviour in
the first place. For example, rather than punishing negative role models—in this case
adults who perpetrate crime with young people—the juvenile justice system needs to
ensure that initial young offenders have access to positive role models as part of their
detention or punishment period. The Council believes that public money would better
be used in developing strategies to prevent repeat offending, rather than prosecuting
and jailing adults once the act of criminal behaviour has already taken place.

The Government has suggested legislation to enable courts to try juveniles as
adults for certain offences. What are your views about this change?

The Minister‘s Youth Council is dismayed by this suggestion, and strongly disagrees
with the proposal to try juveniles as adults for any offence in South Australia.

The Council firmly believes that placing a child, even up to the age of 17, in the adult
justice system is both fundamentally dangerous to that child and dramatically reduces
the likelihood that the young offender will be rehabilitated into the community.

While the Social Inclusion Unit has not provided information as to whether or not young
offenders tried as adults would be housed in the same facilities as adult criminals, any
decision to place child and adult offenders in the same facility would violate young
people‘s right to adequate protection in the community. Young offenders would likely
face additional physical and emotional risks from older, long-term offenders if they were
to be detained in the same facility.

Regardless of whether young offenders tried as adults are placed in the same facility
as adult offenders, the simple act of labelling and punishing young people as adults
significantly reduces their likelihood of rehabilitation. An adult criminal charge is far
more serious than a juvenile charge, and thus particularly hinders young people from
reconnecting to the community through employment, training or education.
Furthermore, exposing young people to the criminal practices and life choices of long-
term, adult offenders fails to give young people access to positive role models, and
further encourages criminal behaviour in the company of adult offenders.

The Minister‘s Youth Council calls on the South Australian Government to recognise its
commitment to all young people, and to ensure that all young people in this State have
the opportunity to fully participate in their communities through long-term education,
employment and social opportunities. Any proposal to try juvenile offenders as adults
casts these children and young people out of the community, and grossly prohibits
them from attaining positive opportunities in this State. While the Minister‘s Youth
Council applauds the Social Inclusion Board for examining the issue of repeat
offending by young people, we find the proposed suggestion to try young people as
adults for any criminal offence completely abhorrent.

We look forward to hearing the outcomes of this initial consultation and to participating
in the next round of consultations.

Kind regards,

Minister's Youth Council
Office for Youth
Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology
T 820 48474
F 820 48499
www.officeforyouth.sa.gov.au


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Level 6, 11 Waymouth Street
Adelaide SA 5000

GPO Box 320
ADELAIDE SA 5000




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