Friday, May 27, 2005

The transition from juvenile to adult criminal careers

NSW: More than 68 per cent of the juvenile offenders who appeared for the first time in the NSW Children's Court in 1995 reappeared in a NSW criminal court within the next eight years. More than one in 10 (i.e. 13 per cent) ended up in an adult prison within this period.

This is one of the main findings to emerge from a new study published today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. The study identified a sample of 5,476 juvenile offenders who appeared in the NSW Children's Court for the first time in 1995 and followed them up for a period of eight years.

The researchers found that, within eight years of their first court appearance, juvenile offenders re-appear in court, on average, 3.5 times. Rates of re-appearance in court, however, are much higher for Indigenous offenders and those whose first court appearance occurred when they were relatively young.

Indigenous offenders re-appeared, on average, 8.3 times over the eight-year follow-up period, while those whose first court appearance occurred when they were 10-14 years of age, reappeared, on average, 5.2 times over this period. Indigenous males, who were aged 10-14 at their first court appearance, re-appeared 12 times.

More than half (57 per cent) of the juveniles examined in the study went on to appear in an adult court within the eight-year follow-up period. The likelihood of a juvenile re-appearing in an adult court, however, was higher for Indigenous offenders, those with a prior record and males.

More than ninety percent of Indigenous juvenile offenders who were aged 16 at their first court appearance, ended up in an adult court and eighty-five per cent of this group with two or more Children's Court appearances went on to appear in an adult court. Interestingly, the principal offence for which a juvenile is first brought to court, is not a good indicator of whether they will re-offend. Roughly equal proportions of those convicted of property or violent crimes went on to re-offend.

The Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said the study findings highlighted the critical importance of intervening as early as possible to break the cycle of juvenile involvement in crime.

"This is not a job that can be carried out by the Department of Juvenile Justice acting on its own. If we want to reduce the risk of a juvenile getting involved in crime we need to improve their family life, their school performance and their physical and mental health. This can only be done if the Government agencies responsible for juvenile justice, family services, education and health work together to reduce the risk factors for juvenile involvement in crime".

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn on 9231-9190 or 0419 494-408

By Lawlink posted 27 May 05

Of course its all pie-in-the-sky

Government agencies and NGOs keeping their hands to themselves and off the kids whose stigmatisation justify their existence? That would be the day.

"The Director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said the study findings highlighted the critical importance of intervening as early as possible to break the cycle of juvenile involvement in crime."

Of course the figures could equally be read as suggesting that there should be *less* early intervention in young people's lives - especially by the NSW criminal justice system.

As Joanne Baker of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has shown, more than half of NSW young people have committed an imprisonable offence by the time they complete high school ("Juveniles in crime part 1: Participation rates and risk factors", Joanne Baker"). [BOCSAR, 1999).]

But the overwhelming majority of them are not caught, not charged and not dragged up before the Children's Court. And (what do you know?) they don't go on to become reoffenders, but rather become 'normal', 'law-abiding' citizens.

On the other hand, the heavily over-policed ones (e.g. Aboriginal kids) end up being dragged before the courts, stigmatised, told that they are criminals and locked up with a large group of other kids who have had the same experience. Lo and behold - they adopt criminal self-identification and go on to chronically reoffend.

No-one can argue against Weatherburn's suggestions of better health & education for disadvantaged communities. It sure beats more prison slots - which is the only thing the Carr government seems happy to invest in.

But please spare these kids the additional disruption and stigmatisation of having every government department and NGO shoving themselves into their lives in the name of 'early intervention' for 'kids at risk'. We've already had a long and sorry history of such 'early intervention' in Australia.

These days, we call the results 'the Stolen Generations'.


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