13th March 2018

A version of the philosophy behind the, “Broken Window Policing Strategy,” that was so successful in effectively managing the New York crime wave should be applied to the youth issues in Victoria. Not in the same manner as in New York but using the same principle to achieve a similar outcome without huge commitments of police and court resources and the added benefit of nominal cost to the government.
A common denominator with juvenile offending is the inability or an unwillingness of young people to respect the law and the basic and simplest tenet of the law, the set of rules that if you break – you can receive a penalty.
A major contributing factor to the escalation of offending by juveniles is that any consequence for their behaviour is introduced far too late and when it is, in many cases, is not seen by the juveniles as punishment but an inconvenience and often a badge of honour.
If we are going to have any chance of reversing the current trend where not only victims have their lives ruined by crime but the young offenders as well, we have to rethink how we manage youth.
Education is important and the Police in Schools Program is essential to creating a culture of respect for Law and Order before children develop the age old phenomena of testing the boundaries. This rite of passage is exercised in varying degrees by all children as they move through childhood towards adulthood and starts from when their first cognitive skills develop and does not stop. It is not a phenomena that turns off and on but is a continuum on their journey to adulthood.
For the benefit of the children and future victims, if their behaviour strays it has to be checked as should be done from the earliest age by parents before it develops in to serious offending. We need to intervene appropriately. Every parent of every child at every age does, without a second thought, checks children’s behaviour and it is by this method we teach children life skills starting when they are babies.
We need to intervene at a time when young people first come to the notice of police, teachers or parents displaying behaviour that is unlawful, no matter how trivial.
It is at this time when a consequences for their actions needs to be imposed so that they learn very quickly that breaking the law or improper behaviour is not good.
Locking up miscreants for minor matters is counterproductive as is issuing an endless string of cautions, warnings and court orders, threatening jail or some other draconian outcome. We would be foolish to underestimate kids because they work out very quickly whether the threat is hollow.
A strategy that is totally underrated both by Police and in particular the judiciary is the Police Cautioning Program instigated in the 1950s and although in need of an update this program could be modernised to provide the solution to much of our youth problems.
The real advantage of the Cautioning Program is its low key and localised approach.
Every parent knows that children live in the moment, a day to a child seems like a month and their social connections change as regularly as the moon phases as they develop but when they break the Law the process is so slow it is really difficult for a child to rationalise that the process is related to something they did a couple of months ago. Their life has moved on five times between the offending and the legal process.
To make an effective difference we need the system to be able to move quickly and deliver consequences for misbehaviours or criminal acts and the current cautioning program whether it is by police or the courts has proven ineffective.
A caution with a consequence that the child feels and that impacts immediately, needs to be implemented. The rights of the child are not impinged upon as they can elect not to participate and have the matter referred to the Children’s Court.
There is some reticence by police to start discussion on this program as every time they do the Human Rights legal protagonists attack but there needs to be a discussion and reasoned debate excluding the ideologues.
Our proposal is to upgrade the cautioning program to extend the role of parents and educators in the process and involve them directly in negotiating an outcome or consequence depending on the demeanour the child.
Every child that receives an official police caution should be cautioned by an officer in the presence and with the participation of the child’s parent, parents, legal guardian, school coordinator or other school representative to ensure that coordination occurs between the Education System, parents and police.
The coordination generally relates to a suitable penalty which the parents agree to and sign an undertaking that the caution is conditional on the delivery and compliance with the penalty. The reasonable costs incurred as a direct result of the offence should be paid by the child’s parent’s taking hardship into consideration it will clearly focus the parent on ensuring compliance and ongoing correction of the child.
And here is where the crux of the new system resides, the penalties. There should be some creativity applied. It could be handing in their mobile phone, Xbox, or play station to the police station for a given period, generally days or weeks rather than months, cleaning or other chores at the Police station (that penalty has the bonus for the child developing rapport with Police). Losing the right to play sport for a couple of weeks, detention at school or a series of hour or two detentions at the police station or any other appropriate penalty that can be imposed, but, critically, it must be a penalty that is carried through without shortcuts to be effective.
These are very minor penalties and for certain offenders that reoffend and would be perhaps issued a second caution then the penalty can escalate.
The normal rules of the cautioning program applies and the child must admit to the offence.
This initiative is proposed in the spirit it is presented and would have a major impact on the offending of juveniles and dramatically reduce the crime rates and the number of young recidivist offenders in that statistic.