Despite falling crime rates among Queensland Youth, the Queensland Attorney General introduced the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 into parliament on 11 February 2014. These mark a return to ineffective and oppressive treatment of children who, for the most part are victims of intellectually and culturally poor, as well as often violent family and social backgrounds.
The Bill makes amendments to key components of the Youth Justice Act 1992 to specifically target repeat offenders. The changes proposed in the Bill:
- Allow repeat young offenders to be publically named throughout proceedings. This will not apply to first time offenders;
- Open the Children’s Court to the public, this is to create transparency in the youth justice system;
- Create a new offence for committing an offence while on bail for another offence. This proposal will target repeat offenders and seeks to hold them accountable in relation to their legal undertaking not to re-offend while on bail;
- Make juvenile criminal histories admissible during sentencing of adult offenders. This will allow childhood findings of guilt for which no conviction was recorded, to be admissible to courts upon sentencing adults and will allow courts to have a complete understanding of defendant’s offending history;
- Automatically transfer young people from youth detention to adult prison when they turn 17 if they have six or more months remaining to serve; and
- Remove the principle of detention as a last resort in order to strengthen the sentencing framework and by providing Courts with the full range of sentencing options for consideration. This principle will also be removed from the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 which means it will be removed for adults also.
Dozens of submission have been made by respected authorities on the treatment of minors, to the Research Director of the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee, all of which are profoundly critical. They can be viewed here.
I would like our elected lawmakers to consider the following:
- The threat of punishment, no matter how severe, does not deter people from committing crimes. Juveniles in particular are convinced they won’t get caught.
- Prisons are schools of crime and creators of resentment and anger against society. Everyone who enters comes out with the ability to be an even worse criminal as well as socially inept, and increasingly violent against family. The only inmates who don’t become recidivists, are those whose backgrounds were not too bad to start with.
- A socially aware and concerned government would seek to improve the social circumstances of everyone at risk, so that their children do not become criminals. Surely they are alarmed that 60% of the juvenile prison population comes from the most disadvantaged 6% of the population—Indigenous people! These kids haven’t a chance! What we should be doing is taking them away from their social setting and placing them in a secure, organised, safe environment, teaching them social skills, reading and writing, preparing them for a trade, then finding employment for them when they are released…meantime treating them with gentle firmness, kindness, consideration, thoughtfulness and even love, using positive reinforcement—never cruelty, threats, punishment. If they have never been treated decently, how can they learn to become decent? They will never learn it in a prison—there they will only learn to become worse…or is that what the government wants? Create employment for prison guards and social workers?
- If you name and shame juvenile offenders, you are making it impossible for them to ever rehabilitate themselves. Their sole survival means will then be to develop a hard, ‘don’t care’ attitude that will make them even more likely to offend again—after all, what will they have to lose? You’ve destroyed their hopes of living a normal life in society!
- Seventeen year old kids are still children. They may act tough, do adult crimes, but they’re still able to be turned onto the ‘right’ path. Put them with adults and you are making their lives hell. Everyone knows they will probably be sodomised, terrorised, turned into calloused adults incapable of anything except sharing their sense of injustice, misery and brutality.
- Offences by juveniles are usually innocent of malice. To bring these up years later when they have done something wrong as adults, is vicious.
When we have reached the point that indigenous juveniles represent only 6% of the prison population, then let the Attorney consider harsher penalties, but while there is enormous evidence of basic inequality and disadvantage among members of that social group, to compound this by punishing the people who are already being punished because of their birth is vile indeed. Like the U.S.A., it seems the Queensland Government prefers to violently punish wrongdoers rather than attempt rehabilitation, despite reams of studies that tell us clearly that what this bill is proposing will have the opposite effect to what the Attorney General reckons he wants. It will create more criminals who are not merely thoughtless of others, but also violently resentful of society, and will further disrupt and alienate the very people in desperate need of assistance, the indigenous population whose just grievances, and the injustices they have received from successive state governments, have never been addressed.
We should take heed of the U.S.A., which has more of its citizens in jail than any other country on earth, and one of the highest violent crime rates. We do not want to go down that road.