Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan is calling for changes in legislation in a bid to incarcerate repeat juvenile offenders for a longer time. It appears that there are loopholes being utilised to avoid being incarcerated, which is particularly worrying as detention is believe to be a ‘constructive’ punishment modifying their offending behaviours.
“Detention or imprisonment for children shall be an extreme measure of last resort, and detention shall be for the shortest possible time” (Commonwealth Secretariat, 2006:118). Children are susceptible to making mistakes and are especially easily influenced, particularly by offending parents and family members, which can be explained by the biosocial theory of crime in addition to the sociological perspective (Cuneen & White, 2010: 33).
Mandatory sentencing was introduced into the Northern Territory in 1996 until it was repealed due to international criticism in 2001. Mandatory sentencing, which is still in existence in Western Australia, appears to breach a number of key articles including the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Cuneen, 2002). It is not in the best interest of the child to incarcerate them when they obviously have issues that need to be addressed or they need to be taken out of the negative environment they may be growing up in. Rehabilitation may be necessary if they are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, have a mental illness or anger management and juvenile detention may not be the appropriate facility to address these issues, particularly if they are under resourced.
Indigenous children were apprehended 19.8% for burglary and break and enter, compared to non-aboriginal youths at 9.5% (Cuneen, 2010: 150). This could be as a result of the social inequality theory of crime, they may access considerably less resources and opportunities than young members of mainstream society. Other factors that may affect their levels of offending could include their hyperactivity, impulsivity, parental supervision and discipline, socioeconomic deprivation as well as peer and situation influences (White & Perrone, 2011: 76). It would be interesting to know how incarceration in detention centre would serve to heal the offender and permanently remove these potential offending factors rather than as a temporary response.
Placing children in juvenile detention for long periods of time is not the answer and may only serve to push them into the cycle of crime as a way of life.