Is youth crime a problem in Coffs?
By MEL MARTIN
THE juvenile crime rate has dropped substantially in Coffs Harbour, according to Terry Keighran.
"To date this year, we've had 59 referrals," the manager of the Coffs/Clarence Youth Justice Conferencing said.
"Last calendar year we had 108."
In fact, Mr Keighran says the Coffs/Clarence has had the best diversion rate in the State.
Youth Service Conferencing is a NSW Government program, which aims to divert juvenile offenders from the court system by bringing the offender and the victim face to face.
"Research shows that once in the legal system (juvenile offenders) tend to stay there," Mr Keighran said.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, 68 per cent of juvenile offenders have been found to re-offend on average 3.5 times within eight years.
In the conferencing program, young people are 26 per cent less likely to re-offend.
"The program gives the young person a chance to see how their actions have impacted on the victim, and gives the victim a chance to explain to the offender the harm they have caused and what they need to do to make up for that offence," Mr Keighran said.
"It humanises the whole thing, as much for the victim as for the offender.
"In the past, the victims never had an opportunity to vent their anger. Now it's no longer a faceless crime."
During the conference between victim and offender an outcome plan is worked out, which Mr Keighran says can often prove very successful.
"Not all cases are successful, but a high proportion are," he said.
"In a lot of cases where the offender has broken into a business they have had to go and work for that business to make up for it. Some cases have ended up getting a job out of it."
Mr Keighran says that before the program started in 1998, 500 children would be in custody on any given day, now it's about 320.
"Punishment brings anger and resentment, but accountability and responsibility brings attitude changes," he said.
But juvenile delinquency will never completely go away, and often has deep roots.
A NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report has found juvenile crime is positively correlated with neglect and abuse, as well as social and economic stress such as poverty, unemployment, single-parent families and crowded dwellings with more than 1.5 residents per bedroom.
But neglect, often caused by the above factors, was by far the most important causal influence on juvenile crime.
To address that the Youth Justice Conferencing is able to assist families with issues like budgeting or parenting.
Another factor for juvenile crime is the developing brain of teenagers, which new research by Professor Christos Pantelis from the University of Melbourne shows is a thrill-seeking brain, looking to take risks and find out new things.
A brain that keeps developing until about 25 years of age.
And while by then young people know right from wrong, it's their impulses that are hard to control.
But at the age of 18, young people officially become adults and if convicted will go to an adult prison instead of a juvenile detention centre which would offer education and rehabilitation programs.
So this begs the question, at what age should young offenders be tried as adults?
n Tell us what you think, is juvenile crime a problem in Coffs Harbour? Should offenders under 18 be tried as juveniles, or should the crime determine how they are tried? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or 53 Moonee Street, Coffs Harbour.