The head of a new Queensland police taskforce into youth crime says “keeping children in detention is not the end solution,” as a coalition of more than 50 experts and organisations urge social media companies to crack down on vigilante groups threatening teenagers.
Amid heated political debate and “tough on crime” pledges, the coalition, led by PeakCare Queensland, launched a campaign on Wednesday urging the government to get “smarter not tougher” on youth crime.
The campaign launch coincided with the formation of the new police taskforce, which its new commander, the acting assistant commissioner, George Marchesini, said would focus on preventing children from going to jail.
Marchesini said police are aware they cannot “arrest” their “way” out of the situation and will work with the community and government to address the underlying and complex factors behind youth offending.
“Keeping children in detention is not the end solution,” he said. “We need to look at how we break that cycle of reoffending.”
The executive director of PeakCare Queensland, Lindsay Wegener, said it was “very encouraging to hear police say they’re not going to give up on young people”.
Wegener urged politicians to follow suit and commit to a bipartisan and evidence-based approach to youth crime, which includes resourcing schools and tackling social issues such as housing.
He also called on the government to urge social media companies to ban hateful posts threatening children, following “diabolic messages” that called for teenagers in a Queensland care home to be hanged.
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Guardian Australia revealed on Wednesday that a Queensland care home had received online threats after being wrongly identified in media reports as a halfway house.
“[Those vigilante threats] cross the line,” Wegener said. “We are calling on politicians to make sure the decisions they make are not driven by extreme views by pockets of the community.”
Queensland police said it was “made aware of social media comments but no formal complaint has been forthcoming”.
The chief executive of the Youth Advocacy Centre, Katherine Hayes, said some comments about the issue were awfully misguided.
“[People] need to consider that these are children for whom every adult in their lives has failed them … they don’t have family they can go to, they are left alone and abandoned and it’s up to us to help them,” Hayes said.
Hayes said the latest “tough on crime” measures announced by the Palaszczuk government in December, including the construction of two new youth prisons, were “headline-grabbing solutions” that won’t actually make a difference.
The majority of children who end up in the youth justice system have been victims of crime themselves. Half of them have not had stable homes, one-fifth have been subject to child protection orders, and many more have been in and out of the child protection system, Prof Tamara Walsh, from the University of Queensland’s school of law, has said.
Hayes said government policies need to target underlying issues that drive offending, such as domestic and family violence, substance abuse and a lack of engagement with education and training.
“It’s very frustrating … [the solutions] are no mystery, we’re just ignoring the evidence,” she said.
“We need to address this problem with intensive and consistent support strategies.”
The chief executive of Sisters Inside, Debbie Kilroy, said the government must invest in the community and let First Nations leaders lead.
“It’s about a quick fix and politicians not having the courage … because they’re more worried about getting elected … [children] need to be the priority here,” she said.
“We need to hand the money over to communities … not build more cages for children that is only going to ensure more crime, not less crime.”