Queensland Child Outlaws Out Of Control
'Our child outlaws' (The Sunday Mail, 9/5/2004)

A shocking 16,400 crimes in a year — and they were all committed by kids in Queensland.

QUEENSLAND criminals are becoming younger and younger as thousands of juveniles embark on mindless vandalism, theft and assaults. Kids as young as 10 are committing a multitude of crimes including robbery, assault, arson and sexual offences. The most recent Queensland police figures show more than 16,400 offences were committed by kids aged 14 and under last financial year, up 13.6%.

Child experts say the justice system is failing to make juveniles take responsibility for their actions and allowing them to "thumb their nose at the law". And they say a lack of resources to help troubled youths means many are left to commit further offences.

This week 20 children, one as young as 12, went on a killing rampage at an emu farm near Cherbourg. Police said the youths slaughtered 44 birds, costing local farmer Col Purcell more than $12,000.

Last month a 17-year-old youth was banned from Pacific Fair shopping centre on the Gold Coast after he and four others went on a violent rampage, assaulting and robbing shoppers, damaging cars and overturning a trailer.

A police juvenile aid bureau officer based in Brisbane who asked not to be identified, told The Sunday Mail the law needed to "get some teeth" when it came to dealing with juvenile offenders.

He said he had recently sent a 10-year-old Brisbane boy to court for violent offences including assault occasioning bodily harm after he was found to be harassing his entire neighbourhood.

The officer, who has served with the bureau for the past five years and worked in child protection before that, said there was incredible frustration among officers over courts who are

"preventing juveniles from taking responsibility. Judges can refer juveniles to community conferences even when the police have said they're not suitable candidates, " he said. "We keep getting the same kids back here again and again. And the offences are getting more and more serious and the level of violence is escalating. These kids are thumbing their noses at the law, and they keep committing offences. If they break the law they should be given one chance and be put on probation — not probation after probation."

In March, a teenager was jailed for 12 months after he broke the jaw of a teacher trying to protect a student from being assaulted. Aged 17 at the time, the youth was wearing steel-capped boots when he kicked the teacher in the head in the schoolyard of Ferny Grove State High School.

In 2002, a group of 10 youths as young as 11 assaulted a young couple in Brisbane's King George Square. The woman blacked out after suffering a broken nose and facial injuries while the man had paint thrown in his eyes.

The police figures show more than 42% of juvenile offenders received a caution and only one in four was arrested. Juveniles charged with anti-social behaviour can have their movements restricted by a magistrate only through bail conditions, which are valid only until the case goes to court.

Brisbane Youth Services director Michael Tansky said many juveniles were committing offences because they were being left unsupervised. He agreed with police that many juvenile offenders had no respect for the law.

"A lot of these kids are home alone and I think that is an element in these cases," Mr Tansky said. "Figures show there are thousands of exclusions from Queensland schools every year and when they are not in school they are out in the community — getting into strife. And then you have wealthy families where the parents are always working and the kids are unsupervised. We need to help resource schools to keep troubled kids in school".

Mr Tansky said many juvenile offenders were also a product of a risk-prone home environment.

"They are being exposed to adults that don't have respect for the law," he said. "And often they are being exposed to violence."

State president of the Council of P and C Associations, Wanda Lambert, said a lack of parental supervision was "one element in a complex issue",

"These are very disturbed young people and what some of them are doing is quite frightening," she said.

She said many parents felt a lack of support when it came to their children misbehaving.

"A lot of the time the law doesn't back them up and kids get a slap on the wrist."

A spokeswoman for State Communities Minister Warren Pitt said that since 1998 there had been a significant cut in the number of young people appearing in court, on supervised orders and in detention in Queensland.

"The Communities Department is committed to constantly developing and improving interventions to reduce offending. These programs target all parts of the system from crime prevention to youth detention centres."