It's been a long time coming. In June 2009, then Queensland Opposition Deputy Leader Lawrence Springborg flagged huge changes to the Juvenile Justice Act under a LNP Government in Queensland. Three years later, a newly elected LNP Government with a massive majority quietly passed the most far-reaching amendments to the Act in over two decades, removing detention as a last resort, scrapping Youth Justice Conferencing and Special Circumstances Courts, and introducing army-style 'Boot Camps' as an option for magistrates.
Back in 2009, Springborg said the amendments were to be implemented to “uphold community expectations on how young offenders should be sentenced”. A scan through the Courier Mail archives of commentary around offences committed by young people quickly shows community expectations over many years can be summed up by the 'do the crime, do the time' cliché. Articles on youth crime are largely underpinned by an irrational community fear of 'youth' which does not match the reality of rates of crime committed (which is actually decreasing according to a recent Youth Advocacy Centre review).
The newly scrapped Youth Justice Conferencing was one of the most successful programs in the Juvenile Justice system, with numerous evaluations attesting to the satisfaction of all involved – victims, perpetrators, co-ordinators and Departmental Staff. Unfortunately, the program was quickly dismissed by the LNP as being part of “Labor's soft-on-crime” platform. The problems with the politicisation of what works best to reduce recidivism and with the LNP's one-size-fits-all, tough-on-crime approach are manifest. In the words of Associate Professor of Criminology Robyn Lincoln, sending young people to detention, or in the best case Boot Camps, is based on “a fundamental lack of appreciation of the causes of crime, [rather] it signals a vengeful justice system”.
And this should be the real concern around youth crime. Pandering to community expectations that do not understand what actually works for young people, and rather seek revenge based on incorrect and hysterical assumptions of youth crime, does nothing to change the actual rates of offending amongst young people, nor make the community safer.