Should We Be Tougher On Youth Crime?

Written by:
12 July 2023
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In this article, Mia Schlicht contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into Australia’s level of incarceration, conducted as part of IPA’s Legal Rights Program. The IPA’s Legal Rights Program aims to research various government actions and policies and how they impact the principles of a free society, including the rule of law, our civil and political rights, and the equality of all Australians.


The sad fact of life is that far too many Victorian children commit crimes.

It is a reality that cannot be swept under the rug by eliminating the criminal culpability of those under the age of 14.

It is a reasonable expectation that offenders be held responsible for the harm they have caused, and dangerous and violent offenders must be removed from the community, no matter their age.

We need to acknowledge that there is a youth crime problem. The Victorian Crime Statistics Agency’s latest data reveals the number ofoffences committed by those aged 10 to 14 has shot up by 44 per cent in just one year.

Youth crime is affecting the lives of many Victorians. Any policy reform must carefully review how we punish juvenile offenders to regain control of our justice system; turning a blind eye will not make the problem disappear.

Yet, instead of combating the incidence of crime, the Victorian government plans to pretend this group of offenders does not exist by simply raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 by the end of this year, and again to 14 by 2027.

Such moves will only encourage and expand the culture of criminality among young Victorians. How can we expect our youth to grow into respectful, law-abiding citizens when the government is removing the key nexus of responsibility, action and consequences?

Young Victorians must know their actions have consequences; without consequences there is no deterrent to criminal behaviour. Worst, the proposal to increase the age of criminal culpability opens a clear avenue for older youths and adult criminals to recruit impressionable young Victorians to commit offences on their behalf, sure in the knowledge prosecution cannot occur.

Instead of raising the age of culpability, Victoria needs a wholesale change in its approach to the criminal justice system.

Our leaders need to acknowledge the difference between violent offenders and low-risk nonviolent criminals who are not a danger to the community.

Across Victorian adult prisons, 40 per cent of inmates have been imprisoned for a nonviolent offence. Victorian taxpayers are therefore spending approximately $510m a year on the incarceration of offenders who pose little ongoing threat to community safety.

These funds could, and should, be reinvested into putting more police on the beat, which the best available evidence shows is the most effective deterrent to violent crime. It is the fear of being caught and facing any form of retribution that deters offending.

Non-violent offenders should still be punished for their crimes, but in ways that ease the burden on our courts and allow for violent offenders to be incarcerated for longer where appropriate. The end goal must always be finding ways that ensure young Victorians do not end up in the criminal justice system, if at all possible, while also ensuring crime does not go unpunished.

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