Police in Melbourne (file image)
Victoria must avoid a heavy-handed response to a spike in youth crime, advocates say. Image by Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Warnings against ‘knee-jerk’ response to youth crime

July 10, 2024

Prominent youth groups have urged the Victorian government not to be spooked out of key reforms by youth crime crisis concerns.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes met with legal experts on Wednesday to discuss the government’s response to youth crime and its standalone youth justice bill.

She and Police Minister Anthony Carbines will also sit down with Victoria Police and youth justice workers on Thursday.

Jaclyn Symes
 Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes says a two-year monitoring trial could roll out quicker than planned. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

Ms Symes conceded a group of repeat offenders were increasingly causing damage and committing aggravated burglaries, raising community concerns.

“That’s the cohort I’m most concerned about,” she told reporters.

Crime statistics reveal the number of alleged offenders in the 15 to 17 age bracket spiked by almost 25 per cent to 15,495 in the year to March.

Ms Symes said youth remand numbers had increased from 44 in January to 63 in July, showing law changes in late March had not resulted in more young offenders being granted bail.

Under the Allan government’s youth justice bill introduced to parliament in June, up to 50 repeat teenage offenders on bail will wear ankle monitoring bracelets.

Ms Symes said the two-year trial could be rolled out quicker than originally planned and expanded to more offenders if required.

She also expects to announce more immediate measures following this week’s meetings.

The Allan government and the courts have faced public criticism after a 17-year-old boy was bailed over a crash at Burwood on July 2 that killed 28-year-old trainee doctor William Taylor.

Six teens were allegedly inside a stolen Jeep when it T-boned Mr Taylor’s hatchback, with two 15-year-old girls chased down by members of the public and three other males still on the run.

The 17-year-old boy allegedly behind the wheel was bailed on Friday but had it revoked on Wednesday after breaching conditions.

William Taylor who died in a crash in Melbourne's Burwood on July 2.
 William Taylor died in a crash when a stolen jeep T-boned his car. Image by HANDOUT/VICTORIA POLICE 

Road Policing Assistant Commissioner Glenn Weir said it was frustrating the teen had violated his bail conditions, suggesting young peoples’ behaviour had deteriorated following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s a number of contributing factors … we look to prevent things happening, we respond and react and enforce where we have to,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, a 15-year-old accused of being part of a group who abducted a schoolboy in Glen Huntly in 2023 had his bail application rejected because he had allegedly continued to offend while on bail, including being found with keys to six stolen vehicles.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Liana Buchanan said the data did not show Victoria was in the midst of “youth crime crisis” but it was important to recognise and respond to serious incidents and their devastating consequences.

“It can be too easy to respond to serious incidents of youth offending with simplistic, populist responses,” she told AAP.

“What we need is evidenced-based policy that will actually tackle the drivers of youth crime.”

Chris Lacey from the Les Twentyman Foundation for at-risk youth also urged the government not fall into a “knee-jerk reaction” or try to police the problem away.

“The evidence tells us that locking kids up in jail doesn’t solve anything,” he said.

“All it does do is make young people better criminals.”

The problematic cohort has “slipped through the cracks” and more funding was needed for early intervention, Mr Lacey said.

“It costs half a million dollars to lock a kid up in jail. That’s the equivalent of four full-time workers for us who could see hundreds of kids in a year.”

An electronic monitoring ankle bracelet
 Repeat teenage offenders on bail could be forced to wear ankle monitoring bracelets. Image by Farid Farid/AAP PHOTOS 

Youth Affairs Council Victoria chief executive Mary Nega said most children caught up in the justice system needed support and safety rather than punishment.

The independent peak body is calling for the government to not go ahead with the ankle bracelet trial and give children the presumption of bail.

Shadow attorney-general Michael O’Brien said the coalition would reinstate the offences of committing an indictable offence while on bail and breaching bail.

“What Victorians need and deserve are practical legal changes to improve community safety,” he said.