Local media has given a lot of coverage in recent times to youth crime in Mooroopna. However, in a recent article in the Weekend Shepparton News, Police Sergeant Louise Richards confirmed ‘there had not been a rise in the number of crimes in the area.’
Her comment is supported by the facts. According to Crime Statistics Victoria, there was a downward trend in the number of young offenders from 2006 to 2015. According to the ABS, in 2016–17 the youth offender rate decreased for the seventh consecutive year.
Anecdotally, however, court users report an increase in complex criminal matters and recidivism amongst a certain group of youths. So, how do we address the issue? And are harsher sentences the answer?
Following the Malmsbury and Parkville youth detention centre riots, and media hype in relation to the Apex gang in Melbourne, the Victorian Government introduced harsher sentencing laws. Under the new laws:
- young offenders aged 16 may have serious offences tried in adult courts
- the maximum detention period for youth offenders was increased from three to four years
- offenders aged 18 to 21 will no longer be sentenced to youth detention. If sentenced to imprisonment, they will serve their time in an adult jail, and
- penalties for escaping or trying to escape from youth detention will be added to sentences
But why are these young people in this situation? What is causing these young people to commit offences?
Goulburn Valley CLC takes a therapeutic approach to assisting its clients. Our lawyers always turn their minds to the underlying causes of legal issues. Family violence, disengagement from schooling, unemployment, drug and alcohol use, mental ill health, homelessness… these all contribute to our clients’ offending.
It is important to remember that the primary consideration when sentencing a young offender is rehabilitation. We need to divert young offenders from the criminal justice system and to provide adequate supports to address their underlying issues. This is how we minimise re-offending. To that end, the Government’s introduction of legislated youth diversion and Youth Control Orders is welcomed.
Harsher sentences, however, will not address community safety. Addressing a young offender’s underlying issues will. We must maintain our focus on rehabilitation. And we must continue to act in a preventative way by providing early interventions.
In Shepparton, we are lucky to have places like the Haven and the youth support group at Rumbalara, which are safe and positive spaces for young people. But we need more initiatives like these, not harsher sentences.
With that in mind, key stakeholders in Shepparton’s legal community are investigating how we can address disengaged young people in Shepparton.
Watch this space.