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Kids and crime
Approximately 5000 young people per year have their first contact with the juvenile justice system, but of particular concern is the rate of recidivism of those juveniles brought before the courts.
Of the 4938 juveniles who came before NSW courts in 1999, over 2600 of them reoffended, on average four times before 2010. For Indigenous kids the rate of recidivism was 84 percent. What is going wrong with our juvenile justice system? Why are kids released only to return a few months down the track? Predictably, many are calling for a tougher approach to juvenile crime but when society’s only solution its to grab a bigger stick, it fails to recognize that many of these kids have been tossed around in a perfect storm of poverty, dysfunction, poor education, and unemployment.
Education is often seen as the silver bullet – a passport out of poverty so to speak. But the fact is, as it stands our education system is clearly failing to engage kids from poorer backgrounds, as the Gonski Report (which seems to have come and gone very quickly) stated, “[There is] an unacceptable link between low levels of achievement and educational disadvantage, particularly among students from low socioeconomic and indigenous backgrounds,”
In 2009, only 56 per cent of children from low socio-economic backgrounds completed Year 12. Research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) in the UK has shown that by the age of seven or eight, many boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds have disengaged from their educational experience. Many more follow in the early years of high school. The JRF’s research also shows that in comparison to their middle class peers, children as young as nine know their education is inferior; they know their access to extra-curricular activities is diminished; and they know they will get lower paying jobs – if they get a job at all.
The unemployment rate for 15-19 year olds in NSW is over 20 per cent – the highest in any age group. In some areas like the Illawarra, the rates of 15-19 year olds not in work or full time education is closer to thirty-five per cent. Drugs and alcohol, family dysfunction and the adolescent brain, capable of making incredibly poor choices, only serve to compound these issues. For many, they learn early on that crime does pay.
The fact is: If we want to stop these kids re-offending, we have to stop them offending in the first place. We must address poverty in earnest. We need to be creative in how we run our schools. We need to provide genuine learning and employment opportunities. Provide better funding for youth workers, outreach programs and schools. We need to support families. The government must realize that society as a whole is responsible for our youth, and funding in this area should not be seen as a cost but an investment. The fact that both sides of politics have shied away from endorsing the recommendations contained in the Gonski Review is just one example of the short sightedness that plagues our “leaders” in this regard.
Author: Dan Haesler, he is a teacher, writer and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminar at the Gold Coast. He writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and blogs at http://danhaesler.com/ and tweets at @danhaesler