Youth crime battle plan
A RADICAL program that involves “postponing” jail for youth criminals has produced “encouraging” results.
The head of the state’s Youth Court today reveals a new plan to tackle serious, and repeat, Aboriginal offenders.
Judge Penny Eldridge says the pilot community program focuses on teenagers successfully completing treatment.
A specialised court for sentencing indigenous youth offenders is also planned.
A NEW specialised court for sentencing Aboriginal youth criminals will be established, under official plans to prevent a “cycle of offending”, a senior judge says today.
Writing in The Advertiser, the head of the Youth Court, Judge Penny Eldridge, reveals how a pilot study, involving a small group of offenders, has produced “encouraging” results, although it is in its infancy.
It involves “postponing” any youth sentence, pending the outcome of successfully completing treatment intervention programs, which address issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, as well as their “positive behaviour”.
If successful, the Courts Administration Authority – which supports the Judiciary – will seek government funding to expand it and establish a specialised court for sentencing Aboriginal youth offenders.
Warning that it comes into play after they have offended, she advocates work to begin “much earlier, preventing the cycle of offending from ever beginning”.
Her public comments come after a gang of Aboriginal youths were charged over the fatal hit-run of Mawson Lakes woman Lucy Paveley, 40.
A special SA Police taskforce, code-named Operation Halon, is investigating her death as she drove to work along Main North Rd early on Sunday, August 20. The moth- er of two was hit by a stolen car running a red light. Lyle Morrison, 18, of Pennington, last week admitted causing her death by dangerous driving – but denied manslaughter.
A further four youths, aged between 13 and 17 from Adelaide’s north, are accused of offences over the smash and a crime spree in the proceeding hours. At least one is “known to police”. Urging a stop to the “blame game”, Judge Eldridge writes of “yet another tragic and senseless loss of life resulting from irresponsible and reckless actions of a group of youths”.
“Their actions have forever changed the lives of so many,” she writes. “Again, the youths involved were from the Aboriginal community.” Judge Eldridge, who holds a District Court commission, accepts “something needs to be done” to tackle a “small group of serious and repeat offenders”.
But amid heated debate on youth sentencing laws, she warns it is “important to realise” that longer jail terms will not solve the problem. “It will not deter youths from further offending,” she writes. It is a far more complex issue that involves helping children from broken backgrounds, she says.
Many youths in court are “disconnected from their culture”. She urges early intervention, and prevention, with their families, communities, and harnessing the “unique and powerful” Aboriginal culture. It is not a “quick fix” but a “sustained” community effort.
THERE has been yet another tragic and senseless loss of life resulting from the irresponsible and reckless actions of a group of youths.
Their actions have forever changed the lives of so many. Again, the youths involved were from the Aboriginal community.
This is not the forum to debate the pros and cons of the Government’s proposed legislation when sentencing youths as adults.
It is important to realise that, while the legislation will achieve its aim of longer custodial sentences being imposed for youths sentenced as adults, it will not solve the problem. It will not deter youths from further offending.
I accept that for a relatively small group of serious and repeat offenders, something more needs to be done.
Until the factors leading these youths to offend are addressed, these tragic incidents will continue to occur. It is time to stop the ‘blame game’ and to work together.
This will involve all parties, including the families and communities, taking ownership and responsibility for the problem.
There is no easy solution. Many of these youths come from disadvantaged social backgrounds.
Many have not had the benefit of a supportive family environment and positive role modelling. Many have experienced trauma and abuse.
They are often disengaged from education and are not in- volved in any pro-social activities. Many abuse illicit substances or alcohol.
The Youth Court is intending to establish a specialised court for sentencing Aboriginal offenders.
We are running a pilot study with a handful of youths participating. The early indicators are encouraging. However, this program comes into play after the youths have offended.
I am advocating for work to begin much earlier, preventing the cycle of offending from ever beginning.
This work needs to be done in the community, working with the youths’ families and providing culturally appropriate community supports. I see the schools as having a significant role to play by building relationships with the families and encouraging and providing support for their children to regularly attend.
Many of the youths appearing in our court are disconnected from their culture. The Aboriginal culture is unique and powerful.
I consider reconnection with culture as another important factor in preventing them beginning the cycle of offending.
None of these suggestions involve “a quick fix”. It will involve a sustained and committed community-led intervention.
Many of these youths come from disadvantaged social backgrounds