A collective of respected community groups and leaders has resorted to a full-page weekend newspaper advertisement to communicate their ‘get smarter – not tougher’ solutions to Queensland’s so-called youth justice crisis.
More than 40 organisations and 20 prominent Queenslanders at the weekend threw their support behind a paid ‘open letter’ addressed to the Queensland Government urging it to consider “evidence-based solutions to youth crime that actually work”.
The letter offers solutions to burgeoning youth justice issues and asks the Government to “stop politicising youth crime”, “hold children accountable for their behaviours in ways that work”, and “take notice of the facts”.
Youth justice continues to be one of the most publicly debated topics as the Government attempts to respond to a series of recent high-profile youth crimes.
Over the past months two boys have been charged with the Boxing Day stabbing murder of Brisbane northside mum Emma Lovell; two more were charged after discharging firearms at cars in Tara; and a 17-year-old allegedly murdered a 43-year-old man in the inner-Brisbane suburb of Wilston.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a number of law changes on 29 December in response to reported community outrage over Ms Lovell’s death and a so-called spike in youth crime.
The letter, published on page six of Saturday’s edition of The Courier-Mail, says: “Queensland communities deserve evidence-based solutions to youth crime that actually work.
“They do not deserve political point-scoring about who is the toughest on crime.
“A bi-partisan approach on getting smarter, not tougher, will produce better outcomes for everyone in keeping communities safe.”
Organisations listed as signatories to the letter include Community Legal Centres Queensland, Anglicare, Queensland Council of Social Services, Brisbane Youth Service, Act for Kids, Bravehearts, Relationships Australia, Save the Children, Justice Reform Initiative, PeakCare Queensland, Edmund Rice Centre, Queenslanders With Disability Network, OzChild and Youth Advocacy Centre.
The letter is also endorsed by a myriad eminent academics and lawyers such as former Supreme Court judge the Honourable Margaret White AO, Dr Terry Hutchinson, Professor Elena Marchetti, Professor Silke Meyer, Associate Professor Dr Michelle Newcomb and Professor Karen Healy.
“Queensland already has some of the toughest laws and the highest number of children imprisoned in Australia,” the letter says. “Despite decreasing youth crime rates, the number of children held in Queensland detention centres continues to increase.’’
In a separate statement, PeakCare Queensland on Friday said one unexpected consequence of the community reaction had been the “vitriolic attacks on children and young people in care who have been swept up in the more extreme views about youth crime being expressed by pockets of the community”.
“These attacks are not being directed specifically towards children and young people who have had encounters with the law,” the statement said.
“They are being directed towards children and young people who happen to be in care, most of whom have had no involvement whatsoever with the youth justice system.”
PeakCare, established in 1999, is a not-for-profit organisation consisting of non-government groups involved in the delivery of child protection, out-of-home care and related services.
“PeakCare is aware of (one) non-government organisation that has been the recipient of targeted social media messages urging local neighbourhood members to break into their service and to hang the children and young people living there,” the statement says.
“This is just one especially putrid example of vile messages that this organisation and others have been receiving.
“Today, we are now facing a diabolical situation where many children and young people in care are fearful of how their local communities and neighbourhoods regard them.
“Some are now fearful of walking out their front door. Their carers and the staff members who support these children and young people are also fearful for them and sometimes frightened about how they themselves are being regarded.”