After a spike in carjacking and home invasions by teen offenders, police say many teen criminals find it hard to resist the urge to re-offend.
Troubled teens would rather steal than work, according to police.
As Victoria struggles with an increase in underage violent crime, Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton hosted a summit to tackle youth offending.
Speaking with many young offenders, Mr Ashton says they struggle resisting the urge to re-offend.
"We're hearing it's easier for them to deal drugs than to deal with the bureaucracy of Centrelink," Mr Ashton said.
"For them it's easier to steal than to earn."
He also said disadvantaged youths reported finding it hard to get work.
Police have arrested more people, especially young teens, in the past 12 months than any other 12 months in the force's history.
On Thursday, they charged nine teenage boys aged between 13-17 in connection with a home invasion where numerous cars were stolen in Melbourne's west.
Youths are also committing more serious crimes, bypassing petty crime for home invasions and carjackings, and re-offending more often, police say.
More than 200 community leaders, government officials and academics met at Thursday's summit to find ways to stop young offenders becoming career criminals.
Opening lines of communication to young offenders, finding new ways to rehabilitate rather than jail, and better resourcing of youth services were a few of the ideas floated.
Mr Ashton is now compiling a report of key issues and will hand it to the state government in the next few weeks.
Premier Daniel Andrews promised issues discussed at the summit would influence government policies through its Public Order Taskforce.
Flinders University Professor Mark Halsey discussed his 10-year study involving hundreds of interviews with jailed criminals, and said harsh punishments aren't a way to rehabilitate.
"You can't incarcerate your way out of the issue," Professor Halsey said. "They still go out and do exactly the same thing."
He suggested Australia adopt an American-style program that sees former gang members or criminals become real life mentors to youths at risk of re-offending.
Issues of changing youth workers leading to instability for teens and varying levels of competency and care from support services were also discussed at the summit.