The Queensland government has announced a trial that will see GPS trackers used on children as young as 15 in Toowoomba, a week after residents vented their frustrations at a youth crime forum in the city.
Annastacia Palaszczuk did not appear at the forum last Wednesday, but spent Friday morning meeting with victims of crime in the regional centre.
It comes after a 12-month $3.8m electronic monitoring trial was rolled out for offenders aged 16 years and over in 2021 in Townsville, North Brisbane, Moreton, Logan and the Gold Coast, with a report from November showing only eight children were enrolled in the program.
At the city’s police headquarters, the premier told reporters a trial of the devices will be expanded to Toowoomba and will apply to offenders 15 years and older.
A briefing document uploaded on the parliament’s site for a public hearing on Monday suggests the GPS tracker trial will also be rolled out in Cairns and Mount Isa.
Criminologist and the Leneen Forde chair of child and family research at Griffith university, Silke Meyer, said the previous trial had shown the wrong cohort had been targeted.
“They used them on low-risk offenders with stable housing. As a result, the evidence might look good but we actually know nothing about whether it works for [serious repeat offenders who are often in the state’s care],” Meyer said.
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In deciding whether to impose a tracking device, courts are required to obtain a “suitability assessment” from the government, including whether the child had access to a mobile phone, a power source to keep it charged, and the ability to understand compliance conditions.
The expansion of the trial to included offenders as young as 15 is part of a controversial suite of measures to crack down on youth crime announced this week, which also includes making breach of bail an offence for children.
Meyer said unless the trial comes with wraparound support, it will only “set [children] up to fail and criminalise them for non-compliance.”
Ross Homel, an emeritus professor of criminology at Griffith university, said the devices could be a “useful short-term tool” if combined with education, job and training programs.
“Anything is better than detention,” he said. “It’s not morally right to use them with minor offenders … [using] bracelets [instead of bigger devices] could protect kids from victimisation.”
When asked what evidence there was to back such a trial, Palaszczuk said it had worked in other states.
“It’s up to the magistrates to make that order for the government. So we will give the judiciary the power to set the rules as they see fit,” the premier said on Friday.
“But what these laws are doing is aimed at those repeat offenders.”
In a report published last year, former Queensland police commissioner Bob Atkinson recommended the government “examine the use of electronic monitoring together with community or home detention as an alternative to detention in a youth detention centre”.
But a report from the Department of Children and Youth Justice published last November said while up to 100 young people could be eligible for electronic monitoring, only eight had been enrolled.
The report said as a result, it was “not possible to draw firm conclusions” from the trial because there was “insufficient evidence”.
It also noted that one of the biggest criticisms of the devices was that “they are obvious when being worn, easily identifying the wearer as an offender”.
“Young people … have described experiences of feeling embarrassed and ashamed when wearing the device,” it said.
“Conversely, there are also instances and examples provided where young people consider the device to be a badge of honour and have requested the device to show it off to friends.”
The report also said technological failures could impact the effectiveness of the GPS trackers.
“This is because [the] technology can create false positives, by indicating an offender has breached the terms of their order when they have not,” the report said.