Race to the bottom: Why Queensland’s youth crime misery is not improving

The Queensland Government’s youth crime crackdown will only churn higher volumes of young people through the criminal justice system, escalating the risk of more repeat offenders wreaking havoc on the community.


May 02, 2023, updated May 02, 2023
File image of a young person being taken into custody by police. (ABC image)

File image of a young person being taken into custody by police. (ABC image)

Griffith University criminologist Professor William Wood is adamant youth offending is headed for an explosion in Queensland based on decades of data from overseas jurisdictions.

The Brisbane based academic has published a scathing assessment of the Palaszczuk Government’s legislation introduced earlier this year that has increased penalties and jail time as key to curbing youth offending.

Wood has blogged that the legislation will have the opposite effect, publishing his insights for international experts a day before a 13-year-old boy allegedly crashed a stolen car into innocent motorists in Maryborough leaving three people dead and another critically injured.

The boy suffered only minor injuries and is in police custody and has been charged with three counts of dangerous driving causing death.

As a community grieves the tragedy and the Opposition calls for the “madness” to end, Wood has indicated the ‘get tough on crime’ approach will commit the State to a continuing downward spiral, opening the floodgates to more serious and potentially deadly crime at the hands of young people based on the data produced in Queensland and overseas.

Describing Queensland as a “revolving door of young people that go in and out of detention”, Wood writes that since 2021, the rate of young people in detention has increased to the highest in Australia.

Increasing detention rates will mean “more young people that cycle in and out of detention, return to their communities worse off than before, and with less to lose by engaging in criminal, anti-social, and self-harming behaviours”.

“This will not reduce youth crime”, he writes.

He said countries such as the US, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the UK had achieved large reductions in youth incarceration with no increase in youth crime.

“If more incarceration worked to reduce more crime, by this logic Queensland should have some of the lowest youth crime rates in Australia given its high rate of youth incarceration,” he said.

“This is not the case. On the contrary, Queensland has the highest rate of return to custody for youth offenders in Australia.”

The Queensland Government, via Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Police Minister Mark Ryan and Youth Justice Minister Leanne Linard, maintain their hardened approach is aimed at busting the “destructive cycle” of youth crime with a mix of tougher penalties and more investment to the tune of $100 million in diversionary programs.

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But Wood suggests there has been an over-reaction, casting doubt on the scale of Queensland’s youth crime “epidemic” via available data that shows no state-wide uplift.

“There is little question some communities and regions in Queensland have faced recent increasing youth crime problems,” he says.

“There is no question these communities, like all communities, deserve to live without fear of crime. And no one disputes the heinous and wanton violence of recent homicides that no family or community should have to suffer.

“Yet the Queensland government has not produced any clear data demonstrating this purported epidemic in terms of overall increases in youth offending.

“Moreover, more recent crime data provided by the government that compares youth offending rates in the first half of 2022 to the first half of 2019 found declines compared to youth crime pre-Covid.

“This was the case even in Cairns, the Gold Coast, Mount Isa, the Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, and Townsville – all of which have been targeted by the government as having significant youth crime problems.

“This is why many criminologists and youth justice advocates question the purported scope and severity of the youth crime problem in Queensland, and are critical of the wide net being cast that will capture an increasing number of young people and condemn them to the churn of youth incarceration.”



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