Vol 11, Issue 6
Older generations always seem to comment on the differences between the youth of today and when they were young. Musical tastes contrasted with artists of a bygone era, cyclical fashion trends that arouse nostalgia, and the classic recklessness and rebellion that each new generation apparently continues to descend into.
On this last point, however, many Victorians of any age would agree that something seriously concerning is happening if our headlines are dominated by Victorian youth who invade homes, assault people and commit crimes with no visible remorse for their actions.
Amidst all the anger, fear and hostility surrounding the compromised safety of the community, lies the complex task of ensuring youth offenders understand the gravity of their actions, and are re-educated and re-enter society as lawful individuals to avoid becoming connected with the criminal justice system for the rest of their adult lives.
But how do we make this a reality? How can we get the message through to the cognitively immature and developing brains of these youth that committing crimes has no benefit on anyone’s lives whatsoever? Sure, some young people make mistakes and some may lack the maturity to behave in alliance with lawful societal norms. But breaking into homes, or stealing cars, or assaulting others? These are situations where disciplinary actions and the onus of taking responsibility for one’s actions need to mix with education to achieve any lasting benefits.
Arguably, no one except the offenders themselves know why they behave the way they do. Who knows, some youth might actually just be rebelling from their sheltered cosy upbringing, or seeking attention by adopting an attitude incongruous to their family values. Alternatively, some of these youth might truly be angry at the world for whatever less-than-ideal circumstances they’re in, or the dysfunctional, emotionally traumatic upbringing they've had.
Whatever their circumstances, this behaviour is still unlawful, and the state must find a multi-faceted approach to tackle the issue, to prevent future crime levels from increasing. Additionally, it seems evident that current youth offenders need a combination of discipline, behavioural re-education, and reintegration back into society as morally principled and, importantly, valued members of society. This way they actually have a purpose, can contribute in the community, and are ideally able to go into their future with as minimal interaction with the criminal justice system as possible.
Law-abiding citizens can choose to continue to blame, label, and lambast these youth until they’re blue in the face for the divide and problems being caused.
Frankly, plenty of that has already been done. And it’s achieved very little.
Now, Victorians need law- and policy-makers to find a way to transform the behaviour and attitudes of these youth in a disciplinary, preventative rather than reactive, manner. Otherwise, will we simply have to wait for that one exemplary case where a victim (or offender for that matter) is stabbed, king-hit or assaulted to death, and have the event capitalised by the media for publicity, before reform occurs? Or will we start implementing preventative measures to halt the crime rates here, in an attempt to reverse the damage done?
Obviously, I’m not suggesting these propositions are guaranteed or are even the most likely ways to resolve the issues with efficiency or certainty. I also acknowledge there may be more cost- or resource-effective options available other than what I have mentioned. In any case, however, the point outstanding remains: if children – criminals or otherwise – really are our future, the choices our current society makes to deter and guide them towards positive outcomes will affect Victoria’s future and safety for years to come.
Nathan Grech is a first-year JD student
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