'Knee-jerk reaction’: GPS tracking of young offenders not evidence-based, experts say

Tough new measures, including GPS tracking, will be trialled against young repeat offenders in Queensland. But experts say the changes aren’t based on evidence and will do more harm than good.

gps tracker

GPS tracking devices will be trialled on 16-year-old and 17-year-old offenders. Source: Getty

Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced heightened new measures to crack down on youth crime on Tuesday.

The changes came both nationally and state-wide.

Some of the new measures include strengthening anti-hooning laws, trialling GPS tracking for kids as young as 16 in parts of the state, and reversing the presumption of bail for serious offences.

Police will also be given metal-detecting wands to target knife crime and seek assurances from parents and guardians that bail conditions will be followed before an offender is released.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's office says she is considering the Prime Minister's offer.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's office says she is considering the Prime Minister's offer. Source: AAP

Announcing the measures, Ms Palaszczuk said, "today is about targeting these repeat offenders — this 10 per cent — to keep the community safe.”

While Police Minister, Mark Ryan, said "we must stop young hardcore offenders being let out on bail and reoffending the next day. That is why we are making these changes to bail laws."
Mark Ryan
Queensland Minister for Police, Mark Ryan, during a press conference in Brisbane, February 9, 2021. Source: Getty

But experts have slammed the changes, describing them as “knee-jerk law reform” and a “dangerous” approach that's not evidence-based. 

“We're talking about a really serious issue and with complex issues, there are only complex solutions,” said Professor Tamara Walsh from The University of Queensland’s School of Law.

“Tinkering with the laws in a way that makes people feel better, is not actually going to improve community safety, and what we've found in the past is that it can actually make things worse,” she said.

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Anti-hooning laws will also be strengthened. Source: Getty

Professor Walsh said based on her research, there are two groups of young offenders. She said the first are those who engage in risk-taking behaviour and will “age out” of offending.

“The research suggests that the less intervention we do with that group, the better the outcomes are going to be,” she said.

For the second group of individuals that participate in more serious and chronic criminal offending, the solutions are far more complicated.

Youth crime
There’s an 80 percent recidivism rate for young offenders, according to Professor Walsh. Source: Getty Images/filo

Professor Walsh said those young offenders are often victims of crime themselves and struggle with mental health conditions and disabilities. 

“Around three-quarters of children in detention in Queensland are known to child safety services. There’s an 80 per cent recidivism rate, which is just shocking,” Professor Walsh said. 

“So why are we not meeting the needs of these children? Their number one need is to be in a safe home. So let's start with that,” she told The Feed.

The mission to crack down on young offenders has been a hot button issue since the Queensland election last October. 

In the lead-up to the election, the Liberal National Party proposed a trial of youth curfews in Cairns and Townsville, despite to suggest they actually reduce crime.

The issue reappeared on the agenda following three highly publicised and tragic deaths allegedly involving young offenders and stolen cars.

kid crime
Professor Walsh says community services should be increased rather than ramping up criminal measures. Source: Getty

A 17-year-old boy was charged with murder and burglary following a crash that killed a couple and their unborn child on January 26. 

While last Friday, two 18-year-old men and a 17-year-old girl were charged with stealing following a crash that killed a 22-year-old woman in Townsville.

Ms Palaszczuk said the new tough measures build on the Government’s five-point action plan announced in March last year, with $550 million in Youth Justice reforms already underway.

Youth Justice Minister Leanne Linard added those reforms have led to a 23 per cent decrease in the numbers of youth offenders.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Source: AAP

But psychologist, Thea Gumbert, said that despite the public upset over these recent events, ramping up criminal measures more broadly is not an appropriate response. 

“It’s very likely to make things worse because we know that putting a child in custody is a really serious decision,” Ms Gumbert said.

 “You set them up for negative interactions with the criminal justice system for the rest of their lives. It carries through to adulthood, where once someone has a criminal record, it's harder for them to get a job, housing, it's even harder for them to get into rehab,” she added. 

Australia. Townsville, QLD
Townsville in Queensland is one of the towns in which the GPS tracking trial is set to take place. Source: Getty Images

Professor Walsh believes more resources should be devoted to making sure these children have housing, food, a safe home environment and that their mental needs are met. 

She added research suggests the more you label a young person as an offender, the more likely they are to live up to that reputation. 

“When I was doing youth justice work as a lawyer, the thing that struck me the most about these kids is that they’re just normal kids,” she said. 

“They just have no one out there that cares about them, who's watching out for them, so they do stupid things. That's really how it starts,” she added.

“Once you know what their lives are like, it's pretty hard to support some of these responses.”

The Feed contacted the QLD Minister for Children and Youth Justice for comment but they were unable to reply before deadline. This story will be updated with their response.

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Published 10 February 2021 at 4:40pm
By Eden Gillespie