Youth crime bat­tle plan

The Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW HOUGH

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

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