Open doors, not flogging, will reduce juvenile offending


p2101-Blair-McFarland-4COMMENT by BLAIR McFARLAND
The writer (pictured) is a youth worker with decades of experience, employed by Tangentyere Council. The views expressed are his own.)
It is true that there are naughty kids in Alice Springs.  This is nothing new, but there are indications from the NT Police that youth offences are down compared to the same time last year.
The NTG releases crime stats monthly. It takes about a month for them to percolate through but they are there available to the public. [ED – The December statistics will be become available in mid-February, according to a spokesman for the Chief Minister.]
NT Police Southern Commander Michael White states on that site: “Overall, Alice Springs total offences against property have been trending down over the last few months, reduced by 16% in July to October 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.
“Property crime is now 1% lower than the year ending October 2016. Over 2017 to end October, thefts of and from motor vehicles, stealing and property damage have all decreased when compared to January-October 2016.
“Residential break-ins continue to track down following a peak that occurred at the beginning of the year. Commercial break-ins have increased slightly compared to this time last year; however there has been a continued downward trend over recent months apart from a spike during the school holidays in July,” says Commander White.
Although this is demonstrably true, it is not much comfort if you were the one assaulted or whose house was broken into over summer, but it does indicate things are getting better. But why?  What is working?
I think this reduction in offending is due in part to improved policing, with the youth engagement police doing a great job.
I often see them talking and laughing with kids on the street, but am also aware they are being clear about the effects of crime, and the consequences of offending.
So as well as creating relationships, where the kids will be comfortable about telling police what is happening and who is involved, they are also giving some street level education about the criminal justice system. People I have been talking to have indicated there is an unprecedented coordination of public resources going on in Alice Springs at the moment, with good effect.
The substantial reduction in crime is also due to the investment the NTG has made in youth programs over summer.
There are free activities happening all through the week that are diverting kids from offending.
The bulk of these preventative programs are being carried by the NT Library, Gap Community Centre and Brown Street Tangentyere Youth Services.
Hundreds of kids each week spend time in these centres, and the majority of the time there are no issues.
The CEO of the Gap stated to me: “We have not had any issues caused by young people that have closed our doors. Only building repair and maintenance issues have closed our doors.
“Young people have not destroyed our buildings or property, they have not attacked staff and in the most part are respectful of The Gap and our staff.”
There will always be naughty kids, but our challenge is to support the vast majority who are good kids through keeping doors open to them and activities that they value.
As my son said when he worked at the Gap Computer Room: “Even the naughtiest kids are good in the computer room.”
Kids, and people, act better when there is something to lose by acting badly.  Taking away resources from all kids to punish that small number of naughty kids is counterproductive: it helps the naughty kids recruit as it engenders a feeling that the town is unfair on kids, and that being good does not result in opportunities.
Some people suggest that flogging kids is the answer.
The option of hitting kids is one that has been discredited for more than a generation. Does it help to model violence as a way of resolving problems?
Those kids eventually grow up, and if that is how they were treated, how will they treat others? Maybe it was done in the previous generations, and maybe that’s why there is as much violence in our community now. It’s a dead end, and not a credible solution to trouble on the streets.
This strategy of providing carrots rather than sticks is the value of open door style youth programs, which welcome kids and their families, and which return more than $3.50 in value for every dollar invested by the community – see this independent report aptly titled “Investing in the future”.
I hope the evaluation of the summer holiday programs that are currently taking place will see the NTG invest in the future of the Alice Springs community, not through more kids in detention, but through supporting good kids who are doing it tough for a number of reasons.


  1. Great article. It’s so nice to read something positive and especially from some one who is on the front line and continuing to see the best in people.

  2. Police telling us the statistics and how good they are doing. Right. Walk away, nothing to see here.

  3. Ah the stats! Property crime down 1%. Pity the comparison level is so high. Are we to see this as progress? Laughable, and describing ram raiders car thieves and rock throwers as naughty … oh please.

  4. As crime becomes more prevalent, a growing loss of faith in the justice system and illegal behavior (PC term “anti social behavior”) normalised in this town coupled with insurance cost on the rise, there is a high likelihood that a large part of any downward trending in the statistics is in part due to an increasing number of crimes going unreported.
    I am aware of an assault and a robbery in the last week not being reported “as it is a waste of time” or “there’s no point”.
    Let us not be fooled by the statistics, as the saying goes, lies, damned lies, and statistics. Blind Freddie can see that there is a continuing decline of law and order in Alice Springs.
    The latest detailed stats available are from October 2017. If we compare the total offenses against the person in Alice Springs for months of October 2014 through to 2017 it looks like this:
    Oct 2014 – 135
    Oct 2015 – 188
    Oct 2016 – 139
    Oct 2017 – 212
    Total property offenses
    Oct 2014 – 246
    Oct 2015 – 261
    Oct 2016 – 350
    Oct 2017 – 416
    Domestic Violence involving Alcohol
    Oct 2014 – 51
    Oct 2015 – 70
    Oct 2016 – 55
    Oct 2017 – 71
    Domestic Violence Event with Unknown Alcohol Involvement
    Oct 2014 – 9 (13% of total)
    Oct 2015 – 13 (13.4% of total)
    Oct 2016 – 11 (15% of total)
    Oct 2017 – 21 (21% of total)
    The final figures above are quite interesting, how are we expected to gauge the success of the Gunner Government’s alcohol programs, when bizarrely, the quality of this data has substantially deteriorated over the previous years?
    Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

  5. If only it were so.
    As much as I respect the years’ long dedicated work this author has contributed to youth issues in Central Australia, foremost among which being his largely successful work in eliminating the scourge of petrol sniffing out on the Homelands, here I think he is glossing over the issue. “Naughty” not only doesn’t begin to cover it, but is both misleading and trivializing.
    The kids in question here are not naughty, but actual criminals engaged in criminal activities.
    I, too, have seen Tangentyere Day Patrol on our streets this summer engaging with youth on the streets, and I applaud their efforts. And I have long supported the Gap Youth Centre as a community effort to engage and support youth in the Gap.
    But once it and other dedicated outreach centres close for the night, what happens then?
    Many go home to what homes they have, but a significant minority do not.
    They roam the streets knowing full well that any interaction with the NT Police will be one-sided in their favour.
    The police are obliged to back down once any confrontation with under-aged youth takes place. And don’t the kids just know it!
    The sad truth is that the line of departing families is growing, while those of us who are staying rely on tall fences, locked gates and barking dogs to ensure out safety and well-being. And until someone, anyone and I don’t care who, can deal effectively with this current and local scourge, the fences, gates and dogs will remain.

  6. Clearly Alan is looking through rose coloured glasses. What would be “nice” is if people could walk around without being abused, accosted or such and it would be “nice” to know our property was safe.
    The aim of the government is to desensitise any issues they can’t control. Crime is one of those. Coupled with the fact that a lot of crime goes unreported for many reasons, the stats may eventually show no crime in Alice Springs. Whooa 🙂 So the pollies will have achieved their promise.
    But, we keep voting for them and believe their unachievable promises and put up with their often moronic decisions.
    So who is really to blame here?
    Interestingly I have a friend who reported some information to the volatile substance abuse service. They asked him to send photos. They must have thought he was blind or they didn’t believe him, so he may need to send the photos with a newspaper date and GPS coordinates for verification and so that if they ever get off their arses and have a look, they can find the very obvious scene.
    The government and its agencies are not taking this issue seriously.

  7. Keep judge Greg Borchers. Judge Borchers deals with habitual offenders all the time. They regularly front up for all sorts of offending but don’t seem to learn anything.
    Half our problems lay with softie judges where the rights of the offender appears to prevail.
    On the one hand, people complain about piss weak judges, then want to sack one who tells it as it to the offender, probably hoping something might get through.
    It appears offenders and their supporters don’t want a straight talking judge lest it hurts their sensibilities, never mind the crime they committed against society.


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