’Don’t jail kid criminals’
A LEGAL expert says that locking kids up is not the answer to Cairns' youth crime issue.
Public outrage over perceived soft penalties for youth offenders has prompted Former Queensland Law Society president and senior criminal lawyer Bill Potts to explain the legal reasoning.
Mr Potts said Queensland courts accept that children and youth offenders fall under a special category.
"Because their minds are not fully formed … they often have difficulty foreseeing result or indeed controlling their impulses," Mr Potts said.
Cairns is plagued by youth and juvenile offenders who committed a huge number of property and dishonesty offences in and around the region.
"Jail does not deal with or stop that type of offending forever and rather all it does is warehouse the problem," Mr Potts said.
Recently many within the Cairns community were angered when 17-year-old property offender Shania Murray was released on immediate parole.
"More often than not children need a sharp shock and the threat of taking away somebody's freedom can, in fact, properly deter them from committing offences," Mr Potts said, without commenting on the specifics of this case.
There are three options the courts can use to impose a jail term while avoiding a custodial sentence - an intensive corrections order, a suspended sentence and immediate parole.
Mr Potts said these were not a soft option.
"Suspended sentences and immediate parole are a way in which the court hands to the child, the keys to their own jail cell," he said.
"It is but one means by which the court tried to instil responsibility and real fear into people and force them to take responsibility."
Mr Potts recognised that for some offenders, this method was just setting them up to fail.
"Often children who come before the courts don't set out to become criminals," he said.
"More often than not they come from circumstances of poverty, of family violence, of alcohol and drug addiction even as children, poor supervision and sometimes mental health issues."
Mr Potts said this was demonstrated in both suicide rates and the amount of recidivist offending.
And for some children, going to jail was seen as a sign of success because they were then seen as adults in the community, he said.
"It is an action of despair and indeed of a broken society," he said.
"What we really need to do is spend money on properly resourcing diversion programs, ensuring better supervision and dealing with social problems.
"If we don't do that jail become a revolving door and our society suffers."