Juvenile Delinquency Textbook Excerpts
These excerpts are from the Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia textbook (Chris Cuneen & Rob White. 2010. Oxford University Press: South Melbourne, Victoria). Whilst my story is minor and reports in this book just the actions of a rebellious and bored kid, this textbook highlights the seriousness of juvenile offending with statistics and research findings which are shocking and tragic!
1. Girls who are state wards are 40 times more likely to be detained in custody that for other girls, compared to 17 times for boys (p.206).
In other research, 70% of the complainants in criminal matters concerning young females are state welfare personnel (Carrington, 1989), which sheds new light on such high statistics for juvenile delinquent girls as state wards. Simply ‘acting out’ in institutions or foster placements can attract charges, and police are readily called out for these girls more so than girls who are not placed in state care (Bargen, 1993). Despite the age of these findings, it is crucial to make comparisons to the past in order to improve our policies and research directions.
2. Studies have found that girls charged with criminal offences have a history of being abused at home (p.206) with an estimation of between 80-90% of girls for girls incarcerated in detention centres (p. 207).
In 2003, whilst conducting informal street-based research and interviews with homeless kids and juvenile delinquents (known as the Chase Crew) in Forrest Chase, Perth Western Australia, my subjects kept mentioning the experience of sexual abuse. So I stopped my interview that I had been conducting and proceeded to ask twenty street-based young people in the vicinity, mostly girls, whether they had been sexually abused. My findings were shocking, to say the least, with 70% saying “Yes, I have been sexually abused. Years later, I found similar statistics in the book Angel of Death by Julie Wright!
In an American study on girls who are chronic runaways, significant levels of sexual and physical victimisation were reported (Zahn et al., 2010). It was suggested that whilst their offending was not deemed serious, they were fleeing from “serious problems and victimisations, some involving illegal behavior by adults” (p.3). One-third of the youth interviewed was running away from sexual abuse while half had left because of beatings (O’Connor & Smith, 2007).
The Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom reported that 80% of women don’t report rape or sexual abuse, in many cases due to their lack of confidence that the perpetrator will be convicted (Beckford, 2012). Over half said they were too embarrassed or ashamed of the incident, and “more than half of the 1,609 female respondents to the survey said the legal system, the media, and society at large is unsympathetic to rape victims.” An interesting aspect of this survey conducted by Mumsnet.com stated that only 10% had been raped, and 35% had been assaulted. Perhaps it could be the case that this statistic represents mainstream women whilst the staggeringly high numbers of sexual abuse on street-based children and juvenile offenders represent non-mainstream society.
So what about boys? It is very difficult to find statistics on male sexual abuse victims, but American research found that “16% of males were sexually abused by the age of 18” (Dube et al., 2005). Older statistics conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that boys experience sexual abuse 50% less than girls (1993).
Thankfully, mandatory reporting of sexual abuse in Western Australia was introduced on 1 January 2009 and requires doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers, police officers and any other person to come forward with information to their local authorities (Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse in Western Australia, 2008). In 2012-2013, there were “184,216 Australian children suspected of being harmed or at risk of harm from abuse and/or neglect” (Child abuse and neglect statistics, 2015). Other than those statistics, it is difficult to conclude that mandatory reporting is successful.
3. It has been suggested that detention centres may be used inappropriately for young women who are homeless (p.209).
It is difficult to find evidence to support this, although from my own personal experience, I have found it to be true. Much of the research shows that homeless kids are more likely to commit crimes such as theft, end up incarcerated, and are unlikely to be bailed (Children and young people at risk of social exclusion, 2012). In addition, juvenile detainees are vulnerable to homelessness in later years.
4. 54% of young people incarcerated are Indigenous; they consist of 2.4% of the nation’s population (p. 142). Aboriginal girls comprised of 65.5% of all young women arrested (p. 204).
Western Australia has been described as a “State of imprisonment” by former Western Australia Inspector of Custodial Services, Professor Richard Harding, due to the juvenile detention rates being the highest in Australia (Georgatos. 2013). An indigenous person aged ten to seventeen was twenty-nine times more likely to be in unsentenced detention and fifty times as likely to be in sentenced detention as a non-Indigenous young person in the June quarter 2011 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2011, 114).
Cuneen and White attribute one aspect of the high rates to Indigenous young being more likely to be dealt with by an arrest and charge than young non-Indigenous people, who are more likely to receive a formal warning as an intervention (2010: 149). “Aboriginal young people do not receive the benefit of a police caution to the same extent as non-Indigenous young people . . . even if they had no prior record of either court appearance or caution” (p. 155). As a result, the courts are more likely to impose custodial sentences on those who are brought before the court on arrest (p.156), and they are more likely to be refused bail (p. 157).
Back in the early nineties, the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody implemented some recommendations with the belief they would positively reduce the “gross over-representation of Aboriginal youth in the juvenile justice system” (Cain. 1993, 24). This included initiatives such as a Community Based Hostel in Redfern to provide a safe alternative for kids who would otherwise have been detained, Aboriginal Justice Panels in four locations, Alternative Placement Programmes for the care and support of young people as an alternative to being locked up, a community-managed rural training project planned for Bourke as a voluntary live-in alternative to institution, the funding of a number of Aboriginal community workers and the funding of South Sydney Youth Services’ Court Support and Post-Release Programme.
Great implementations with great intentions, but did it work? Nope, it failed miserably because back then, Aboriginal juveniles averaged 19% of youths who were incarcerated in New South Wales (Cain. 1993, p.16). This crept up to 43% in 2001 (Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, 2015) and is now 50% (Justice Reinvestment Campaign, 2015). Although, to their credit, the rate of Indigenous juvenile incarceration in New South Wales was 25% in 1989 (Wootten, p.19), so whatever they were doing in the first place might have just worked!
Reasons for such high rates, you might ask?
· Social and economic disadvantage
· Insecure cultural identity or being a member of the Stolen Generation
· Extensive policing of Aboriginal communities
· Poor awareness of Indigenous culture
· Language barriers
· Inadequate access to legal representation
· Drug and alcohol abuse
· Lower participation in education and employment
· Housing and financial stress
· Lack of social support.
(Indigenous young people in the juvenile justice system, 2011).
So what are the solutions? According to Jens Korf (2015), it has been suggested that “one of the most powerful ways to reduce Aboriginal prison rates is by empowering communities to help themselves” in addition to adequate legal representation, criminal justice process education, Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers, employment and leadership opportunities, recreation programs, Circle Sentencing, more placed on Community Corrections Orders, healing programs, and making institutions more culturally appropriate in addition to investing in the Justice Reinvestment model which aims to “reduce offending and imprisonment and increase community safety” (2015).