The Advocacy team travelled to Cairns and visited Youth Empowered Towards Independence (YETI) to find out what young people, workers and parents think about the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility in Queensland.
The YETI building is amazing. It appears to be an old massive warehouse that is now filled with computers, art supplies and a kitchen for young people to drop in and use anytime. The service had lined to groups of boys and girls to give their experience and options on MACR.
The boys are apprehensive to be part of the process but are supported by the YETI staff to understand the importance of the discussion. Lollies scattered around the table are quickly opened and passed around to kick of the discussions.
All of the boys advise that they have been in contact with the youth and adult justice systems and feel that it has not supported a positive change in their behaviours. One boy explains that the justice system has ‘taught me to be a better criminal. I went in stealing cars and came out knowing how to cook meth and murder people’.
This young man has had a long history in the youth and adult system. He explains that inside a centre it is a harsh world where you need to ‘hold your own or get squashed’. Serial murders are sharing spaces with you and you have to decide whether to ‘be their bitch’ or learn to fight.
The boys explain that boredom and a lack of opportunities are the main reason that young people commit crimes. The two boys from Lockart River describe children as young as eight committing crimes, drinking alcohol and taking drugs because “that is the way things are up there”. There are additional issues such as households that are not safe to return to with issues such as alcoholism and family violence occurring in homes in the region.
Leaving a community such as Lockart River is a very big step for a child under the age of 12. The boys explained that at that age you may think that it is an ‘adventure’ to go down to Cleveland or Brisbane to be locked up. But, after the third or fourth time they explain that they start to think about how tough it will be in the future and the risks of going to the ‘big house’.
One of the boys talks about entering Lotus Glen at 17 years of age for stealing a car. He explained that was where his uncle was serving a ‘real’ sentence of murder. “You are hanging out with the big boys then. It’s a scary place and you have to know how to hold your own”. It almost sounded as if he was looking up to his Uncle that was serving ‘real’ time and was inevitable that one day he will be doing the same.
The boys talked a lot about the lack of opportunities in Cairns. They focused on the boredom that is rife in the community and forces groups of boys to pressure each other to commit crimes and try to ‘one up’ each other.
The girls had similar themes to the boys. They talked about the boredom they feel in the community and the lack of opportunities. They didn’t like the idea of going to school and it was always a second choice to wagging with their friends and getting into trouble. There is a lot of peer pressure from friends and no real thoughts about the repercussions.
The themes presented by these young people point to a very serious issue. There is a lack of engagement in activities that promote positive wellbeing and connection with opportunities in the community. By forcing young people to spend time in detention it disrupts the changes of engaging with programs and services in the community that increases chances of opportunities in the future.
One theme that was heavily focussed on in discussions with workers and parents in the region was young people eventually grow out of their criminal behaviours. They get to a point in time where they start to think more about the future and what one bad direction can do to your life.
The solution is to have programs and services in the region that engage young people in activities in that they will connect. More services that are focussed on the interests of the young people and gets them off the street and into an area that they are working together on projects. Cultural programs can play a strong part in this connection and needs to start and end with the community as a focus.
The discussions with young people have brought a great deal of insight into the issues of detention in the Far North. Although it is hard to define an age in which a young person should be criminally responsible it is easy to see how we can help all young people work towards positive futures.