Posted on May 8, 2021

Two-Thirds of Kids Targeted by Queensland Crime Crackdown Are Indigenous

Matt Dennien, Brisbane Times, May 1, 2021

Indigenous children made up almost two-thirds of more than 300 young offenders the Queensland government labelled “hard nuts” in its $38 million crackdown on youth crime, which was pushed through Parliament last week.

Advocates say the figure highlights the disproportionate impact the new laws will have on the Indigenous community amid a national discussion about its over-representation in the justice system 30 years on from a landmark royal commission.

In response to a parliamentary question on notice, Youth Justice Minister Leanne Linard said the group targeted by the new laws – the 10 per cent of young offenders responsible for almost half of all youth crime – comprised 344 people.

The department has now confirmed 219 of those, or 64 per cent, were Indigenous. A spokeswoman said it was working with communities and their leaders to deliver a range of culturally responsive programs to prevent and respond to youth crime.

Indigenous-led justice coalition Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby said it was a “terrible irony” that the laws were passed just one week after the anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and amid national discussion about the issue after seven more deaths since March.

“The Queensland government’s own numbers show that these laws will only drive more of our young ones behind bars,” Ms Axleby said.

“Our people will not stop dying in custody until governments invest in community-led solutions instead of endlessly pouring taxpayer dollars into a broken criminal justice system.”

Announcing the suite of changes in February after a number of high-profile fatal crashes involving young people, Police Minister Mark Ryan said the government was being “very particular” with the laws, as the majority of young people were responding well to intervention programs.

The sweeping changes included GPS tracking trials for some young people charged with serious offences but out on bail, and tougher bail restrictions, including a reversal of the presumption against release, which Mr Ryan said could lead to more of the cohort in custody.

Youth justice staff, advocates, experts and lawyers have criticised the changes as a knee-jerk response to a complex problem involving some of the state’s most vulnerable people.

The LNP did not oppose the laws, but did argue they also needed to include breach of bail as an offence.

Indigenous youths accounted for 57 per cent of the average number of young people on a supervised youth justice order each day last year, the latest Queensland Government Statistician’s Office Justice Report showed.

While only making up about 9 per cent of the state’s youth population, they also accounted for 70 per cent of the young people in custody.

Youth Affairs Network Queensland director Siyavash Doostkhah said he was surprised the government was still pushing ahead with punitive solutions which, while addressing community concern about crime, would not actually solve it.

With only about 30 free beds in youth detention centres statewide at the start of March, according to another recent question on notice, Mr Doostkhah raised concerns that the changes would likely lead to the need for another facility, when the money should be going towards prevention measures instead.

The Youth Justice spokeswoman said the department was trialling a Family Led Decision-Making program, along with cultural mentoring trials in Mount Isa, Townsville and Cairns, with one-on-one support from Elders.

In addition to the $38.3 million for the GPS trial and bail measures, a further $60 million would be invested across four years in diversionary support programs and services.