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HomeIssue 2Youth offending: law and order or welfare issue?

Youth offending: law and order or welfare issue?

p2316-Black-girl-NadiaBy KIERAN FINNANE
Chief Minister Adam Giles sees youth offending as simply a law and order issue.
Asked last week about what Alice’s latest Alcohol Management Plan might be doing to prevent alcohol getting into the hand of young people, he said it is a matter of simply enforcing the rules: no sales to people under 18.
When crime is being committed, his concern is that if the perpetrators are youths, even if they are apprehended they are being let go.
“Police go to all these hard efforts, they pick up kids who are committing the crime, then they are released straight away.”
The solution is “making sure we are following the appropriate processes of sentencing and the justice system”.
He expressed “broader levels of concern” around breaches of bail.
He also suggested that a lot of youth property crime is organized, even using the word “syndicate”: “when you take those individuals [the leaders] out of the syndicate the crime goes down”.
He made no mention of glaring welfare issues in the lives of young people coming before the courts, as highlighted by our recent coverage of spates of offending by groups of teenage girls.
The last of the group, whom I have called Nadia, was sentenced last Thursday.
p2318-Styles,-Giles-1Among her charges were eight breaches of bail, so Mr Giles is right, there is an issue there, but in the case of Nadia, at just 13 years old, the problem surely lay with the adults into whose care she was placed, among them her mother, a heavy drinker.
Right: Minister Peter Styles and Chief Minister Adam Giles at the launch of the new Alcohol Management Plan.
Nadia does not have a good relationship with her mother and doesn’t feel safe with her.
Her other charges included multiple counts of property damage, aggravated unlawful entry, stealing, and the most serious, a count of aggravated robbery, where the victim was a 60-year-old woman in the Yeperenye Centre carpark last August 3, Picnic Day. This offence took place in broad daylight; all of the others were late at night; one unlawful entry took place at 3.30am. All of the offending was done in the company of other youth, including girls.
As previously reported, Nadia’s situation had been brought to the attention of the Department of Children and Families on numerous occasions, but there has been no effective action taken.
In her young life she has been known to abuse alcohol and sniff inhalants. At Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, where she spent time on remand for the offending that saw her come before the Supreme Court, she attempted self-harm.
On Thursday Justice Judith Kelly sentenced Nadia to a total of seven months’ detention. She had already served 83 days. The rest was fully suspended and no conviction recorded, even for her part in the aggravated robbery – “a very serious offence where normally you would need to impose a conviction”.
However Justice Kelly was concerned to avoid the “serious consequences” of a conviction on the record of such a young person, even if she doubted that that had much meaning for Nadia.
“Protection of the community” was a major consideration in sentencing, but in Justice Kelly’s view that was best served by Nadia being given a chance to rehabilitate – to go to school, live a stable normal life, not be running around at night, getting into trouble, drinking and sniffing.
Nadia left court in the care of her elderly grandmother, with whom she will live. She will also be under the supervision of a probation and parole officer for the next 12 months.
Time will tell whether the support she gets in these conditions will be enough to turn things around for her.


  1. Change legislation to reflect the nature of the crime to condidtions of bail, bail of an indidvidual should take into consideration potential harm to the community.
    The sale of alcohol to minors falls squarely onto the shoulders of who sold them the alcohol, it is called responsible sale of alcohol. If none of the aforementioned works – the common sense approach, you could always legislate the “piss off law” as suggested by the chief minister when he ran out of ideas last week.

  2. A lot of these crimes, whether juvenile or adults, do people really want them solved? It seems as though this problem has been going on for at least 40 years.
    My concern is, because the welfare of the Indigenous brings in so much money and employment into Alice Springs, more than the tourist industry or any industry in Alice Springs, nobody really wants to fix it. It’s the goose that lays the golden egg.

  3. @ Kieran: In our experience, there are a couple of different types of youth offenders, and the smallest number of those are the ones who are, in layman’s terms, simply born bad.
    Many of them are the wannabe gangsters, who are simply craving acceptance from their peers.
    Some do it from necessity; there’s no food at home and/or home is unsafe.
    Yes, some do it because they want to go to the Big House and not necessarily for status. They get their own bed there, good food, good school (really, Owen Springs School is excellent) and they don’t get bullied or harrassed.
    Some do it because they don’t have the intellectual capacity to recognise right from wrong. A 10-year study of those in youth detention in New South Wales found that a solid majority had an IQ below 70.
    Interestingly, that is not our experience – it may have been that way in the NT even five years ago but recently, we have found it is the smarter ones who are getting into trouble, usually serious stuff.
    Why? We believe it is because they are simply looking for a challenge.
    They aren’t challenged at home, where there are no expectations on many of them. They aren’t challenged by a curriculum that has been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.
    Many of those before Youth Court (or whatever it is called this week) have had only rudimentary, if any, assessments. Therefore, magistrates (or judges or whatever they are called this week) have no guidelines about what may turn the young person around.
    Kieran, has Nadia had any mental health assessments? Has she had health assessments? Has she ever had something as basic as eye or ear checks?
    Has she had any intensive therapies or counseling based around the results of intensive assessments?
    My guess is none of the above. I am sure she has been told not to sniff and that she has to go to school. I’m guessing DCF (or whatever they are called this week) may have even done some sort of “parental responsibility agreement” with the mother and ticked the boxes.
    In our experience, the biggest problem is that Youth Court cries wolf way too much. Most of the ones we work with sit in court and their eyes glaze over as soon as the magistrate starts talking. They can recite it by rote – do it again and I may send you to jail.
    They do it again and get the same speech.
    Many in the criminal justice system believe detention should be the last resort for youth offenders. In a perfect society, that is probably true.
    We don’t live in anything that looks like a perfect society. There are evidence-based solutions that have proven they do work; the current administration doesn’t want to know about them.
    None of the solutions that do work involve a slap on the wrist or a 10-day holiday riding a camel, by the way.

  4. First and foremost a modelling issue, usually provided by parents, siblings, family and community. Not always the case of course, but probability is high. Genetics also play a part. Ultimately these are influences, sometimes severe, but the decision made rests with the person who made it and the same applies to change.
    The article points to big state carrot and stick solutions and this can only be a surrogate for family and community methods when these are dysfunctional and hinder maturation.
    With limited taxpayer resources, it is in my view better to prioritise welfare spending on those with the greatest capacity to benefit and legal interventions targeted at problem families and individuals who lead others astray.
    I would not be above using political strategies either, to divide and rule with recalcitrant types. This would include taking into account tribal and gender planes of cleavage to achieve disunity amongst groups, with the benign purpose of delivering the more salvagable and marginalising the corrupting influence of the troublemakers.
    Patriarchy is useful and equalism is not a substitute. The pendulum needs to swing away from the left to the centre to provide boys with good male role models.

  5. @ Peter: Plenty of assessments available at Congress at no cost to the client. And what are these evidence-based solutions of which you speak?

  6. @ Dave: From the start, it must be recognised that youth detention facilities – in the Territory, Owen Springs and Don Dale – are enormously costly to operate, often put youth at risk of injury and abuse and are largely ineffective in reducing recidivism.
    The United States reduced youth incarceration and recidivism rates to 35-year lows by 2010 after most states had implemented high-quality alternatives to incarceration that supervise, sanction and treat youth effectively in their homes and communities.
    In fact, youth incarceration declined in 45 of the 50 states and districts between 2000 and 2010.
    In most states, that involved multiple changes in how systems operate – not creating more programs but improving diversion practices, better probation supervision and detention reforms.
    Many states implemented justice reinvestment, which involves taking money out of corrections and funding communities to deal with their issues. It is not, as the Chief Minister, Treasurer and Attorney-General claimed in NT Parliament, about “letting rapists and murderers out of jail”.
    In Texas for example, school districts are now required to consider mitigating factors such as self-defence, intent, a student’s disciplinary history or any disability a student may have before suspending, expelling, or assigning a student to a disciplinary alternative education program or a juvenile justice alternative education program, regardless of whether the disciplinary action was mandatory under the district’s code of conduct.
    The disability part is interesting – it is estimated that as high as 90 per cent of those incarcerated in the Territory may be suffering, or were suffering at the time of their offending, a brain injury. There is no requirement for any such assessment here.
    You can find all the programs that may work on the National Juvenile Justice Network website under the Recent Reforms tab.
    While you are surfing, check out a report called Resolution, Reinvestment, and Realignment:
    Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice on the John Jay website. It is excellent.
    Not everything that works in Texas will work in the Territory, of course. We know that what works in the Alice may not work in Tennant Creek and what works there may not work in Ali Curung.
    Kieran has done her job as a reporter, by putting youth justice on the political agenda. It is clear that current government policy on youth justice was set by Dr Phil.
    The job for candidates in the upcoming election is to get their head around the issue, not simply suggesting a “piss off law”.
    The job for us as voters is to keep the bastards honest.

  7. I hope Nadia’s elderly grandmother has the ability to help and care for her grand daughter.
    Often these poor old women are under too much pressure and have little support for the job that is expected / demanded of them from agencies and family.
    A couple of things they do have tho are Love and care for their families and enormous knowledge and direct experience of all the myriad social programs that have been implemented and inflicted upon them over the years.
    They know the rubbish programs and the rubbish people who ran them. They know the programs that worked or showed promise but were defunded, they know the programs that could have worked if they had been implemented properly or with close consultation with and respect for the people they were meant to help.
    Do these old people get asked for their opinions about what help and support, what programs they would like to see returned, how to operate a successful program, who should operate it, etc etc etc? If they are asked are they listened to? I think not.


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