Father Chris Riley, founder and CEO of Youth Off The Streets has strong views on a review of the Young Offenders Act.
THERE has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about a review of the Young Offenders Act and the use of warnings and conferences as an alternate punishment for young people who have perpetrated particular crimes.
These crimes include robbery in company, indecent assault or breaching of an AVO. I have always advocated that reforms are needed for our juvenile justice laws so that our kids that perform negative acts are not locked away and kept out of mind until they are later released.
This is not an effective means of ensuring that these kids do not return to the same behaviour on exit. In fact, research shows that time in a Juvenile Justice Centre for a young people is the “most significant factor in increasing the odds of recidivism” (Homan and Ziedenberg, 2006, p.4).
However, the crimes that I mentioned before are very serious offences and I believe that young people who have performed these should not simply be released into the community with the potential to simply continue with the same criminal activity. Rather than being locked up in jail, we need to be funding services that follow treatment models relevant to the needs of the young person and their crime – for example a young person facing alcohol or other drug use which contributes to their behaviours should be enrolled in an alcohol and other drug service that can assist them to overcome these dependencies and the issues surrounding them.
We have seen the positive results that these kinds of approaches can have on a young person who is “misbehaving” through the establishment and our experiences at Youth Off The Streets Dunlea Alcohol and Other Drug Youth Service based in Merrylands. Young people facing patterns of drug or alcohol misuse are enrolled into an intensive treatment program here which teaches them coping mechanisms for the personal challenges of their daily lives. The service also provides mental health support, reconnects them with their family, where possible, refers them on to other services that will be useful to their transition into the community and engages them in positive activities.
This program is an example of the type of prevention/rehabilitation services that not-for-profits provide to young people facing issues that are linked to criminal behaviours.
Together, these kinds of approaches to behavioural development of our youth can have profound positive and lasting effects.
However if we don’t target our young people at an early stage of their criminal behaviour and while they are still young with these programs, we face the chance that these young people could become recidivists and present further negative behaviours later in life.