It costs about $200,000 per year to lock a young person up.
It costs about $83,000 per year to care for a young person.
The Youth Justice Review released by the Territory Government this week rejects the notion of a youth curfew, finding “no evidence that curfews are effective in reducing crime”. This conclusion obviously applies to blanket curfews as the review notes that Apart from the courts already have the power to impose curfews on individual offenders.
The review was conducted by a team chaired by former Country Liberal MLA and Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney, who has a legal background, and included a lawyer, a legal research officer and a number of project officers.
Will the conclusion of the review be enough to put the youth curfew notion to bed? Probably not, for as the review notes, public perceptions of youth crime are “somewhat different” to the facts: that the numbers of offenders are “relatively low” as is the nature of their offending.
A snapshot of youth offending
There are around 53,000 young people under 15 years of age in the NT. In 2010–11, the review reports, 639 young people were apprehended by police; 1192 matters were lodged in courts of which 665 were finalised; and an average of 39 young people were in juvenile detention on any day.
Indigenous males make up 76% of those involved in the youth justice system. Males are more likely to have been apprehended for property crime, with theft and unlawful entry with intent being the most common youth offences. Traffic and motor vehicle offences form the second biggest category, increasing by 100% from 2006-07 to 2009–10.
Females are more likely to have been apprehended for acts intended to cause injury, and traffic and motor vehicle offences.
Young people aged 15 to 16 years are the most likely group to be apprehended, while Indigenous offenders are more likely to commit their first offence at a younger age than non-Indigenous offenders, and are more likely to have been charged multiple times.
The review acknowledges that youth crime is on the increase. In 2006–07 police apprehended 587 young people; this number rose to 797 in 2009–10.
There has also been a general upward trend over the past five years for court lodgments involving young people, with a particularly large increase in 2008–09. This trend is similar to the upward trend in policing data and “indicates that the increase in youth offences encountered by police in recent years did not relate to minor offences, since they warranted prosecution through the courts”.
The Territory is not an exception, says the review: from 2006–07 to 2010–11 three other Australian jurisdictions showed increases in children’s court matters.
The number of young people in juvenile detention is also on the rise: from an average daily number of 18 in 2005–06 to 39 in 2010–11. The review reports that NT Correctional Services is expecting this number to rise to 70 in 2011.
Those in detention are more likely to be Indigenous; they are more likely to be on remand than serving sentences; and they are in detention accused of more serious crimes, such as acts intending to cause injury.
The cost of keeping a young person in custody is estimated at $555 per day or about $200,000 per year. Compare this to the cost of the “most intensively supported” young people in the care of the Department of Children and Families – around $83,000 per year. The difference is worth bearing in mind in relation to the cost of implementing the review’s recommendations.
The one most likely to stick in the public’s mind is for there to be more youth rehabilitation camps (not “military style boot camps”, says the review, which “can be damaging to young people and have no impact on their offending or rehabilitation”). It recommends a short term (8-10 days) therapeutic camp program for both the greater Darwin area and Central Australia, as well as a longer term (6-18 weeks) therapeutic residential program in both regions. These camps should be regulated by legislation.
The review notes that therapeutic interventions can achieve reductions in offending of 25% to 65% – “an obvious incentive for government
to invest in a workforce that can provide such therapeutic programs”.
Another recommendation is to invest in police-run youth diversion programs, which the review says should be expanded and made available for a greater range of offences, in particular traffic and vehicle offences which make up 15.4% of total youth offences in the NT, with non-Indigenous youth the more likely culprits.
The popular belief is that diversion amounts to a “slap on the wrist” but the review quotes data from the NT Police for 2005-10 that says nearly half the youths referred to court re-offended, compared with just over one quarter who had been referred to diversion. However, police noted that youths who attend court have “higher re-offending risks”.
The review looks at ways for diversion to be improved. A bail support program is one, as if a young offender does not have family support they are unlikely to be referred to diversion. A bail support program would employ specialist workers to help locate a responsible person to sign a bail undertaking, or to act as the responsible adult themselves when no one else can be found.
When diversion was first introduced in 2000, the program was relatively well funded and staffed. This has waned: “It no longer has its own statistician, nor does it have a superintendent or senior sergeant leading the unit. NTP advises that often positions are unfilled and that ‘in the past three years there has been difficulty attracting staff to the youth diversion area as it is not seen as a core policing function’.”
Initially driving offences were eligible for diversion but the Youth Justice Act which began in 2006 precluded them. The review quotes NT Police as saying: “If [driving unlicensed] offenders were to again be eligible to be diverted, a driving program could include a drink driving focus, an additional positive outcome”.
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) also expressed concern about the inability to divert these offences, which often sees “these [first time offender] males ‘springboard’ to future like offending, such as drive disqualified and drink driving”.
The magistrates’ submission to the review also supported diversion for traffic offences: “Programs of this nature would be useful not only to ensure that young persons become properly licensed for example, but also to address public safety by providing education about use and driving. Not all youth have the advantage of parents who can assist them on the process to becoming a fully licensed driver.”
The review also recommends that the Family Responsibility Program and Family Support Centres be expanded. There are ony two of these centres at present, one in Darwin and one at the Youth Hub in Alice. Families can be referred to them if they’re experiencing “difficulties” with their child. Families enter into a Family Responsibility Agreement (FRA) which may involve a parent or parents undertaking counselling, therapy or attending a course or program of “personal developments aimed at addressing certain destructive or damaging behaviour”. A parent might also be required to “exercise proper care and supervision of the youth” – for example, ensuring that they go to school, or keep away from certain people or places.
The program began in 2008. In 2009–10, there were 23 FRAs, involving 61 people. This rose to 81 In 2010–11 (67 new,14 carried forward), involving 197 people.
The Youth Justice Court can make orders requiring parents to do the sort of things outlined above, with fines for breaches, but none have ever been made. The review accepts that this is “a measure of success” of the agreement system, while suggesting that the potential for orders to be made may act as incentive for families to enter into agreements. An independent evaluation of the program will be undertaken later this year.
To expand any or all of the above the Territory has to build its workforce capacity, another recommendation of the review, which notes the vulnerability of the youth sector in “maintaining physical and mental capacity for extended periods in high pressure environments” – in other words, not burning out.
The review wants evaluation be built into all programs, and recommends the establishment of an external monitoring and evaluation process.
A further recommendation is the development of a new youth justice strategy, establishing benchmarks and targets to improve access to services, to reduce youth crime, decrease the number of young people in detention, reduce the number of Indigenous offenders, and increase the number of young people entering and completing diversion programs.
More effective, streamlined administrative arrangements need to be put in place, with a single youth justice unit located within an appropriate government department says the review. The present situation is described as “confusing” and youth “are not the core business of any one agency”.
There needs to be better data collection and information sharing, including between government departments and with non-government organisations.
At present, for example, despite fairly comprehensive data in the quarterly crime statistics (henceforth to be published only annually), there is no detailed separate dataset for youth crime (apart from the quarterly daily average number of detained youth offenders).