Why jail is not the answer to our youth crime crisis
EVERY day, people are outraged at the leniency of sentences being handed out by judges and magistrates.
We see people who have committed the most vile offences, and those who are repeat offenders, getting suspended sentences, probation and the like.
And of course, we have seen some horrendous examples of where the judicial system has completely failed us. Sunshine Coast schoolboy Daniel Morcombe would be alive today had judges dealt with Brett Peter Cowan properly to start with.
He was given minimal sentences for horrendous crimes against children.
The alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear.
But is the answer really to send more people to jail?
It's a question I've often contemplated, first as a young police and court reporter, and then later as a newspaper editor.
Each day, we see many comments blasting the decisions of our judiciary.
And to be honest, I often agree with them.
There just doesn't seem to be enough focus on the deterrent effect.
But are we all being a little simplistic here?
Will sending more young people to jail really solve the problem.
Queensland's police commissioner Ian Stewart doesn't think so.
He told The Courier-Mail: "While we're happy to play our part and do our job, arresting more people and putting more people in jail is not the answer to making Australia a great nation."
"Part of it is making sure people know there are consequences when they do wrong and that the police will respond.
"But certainly I think as a community we've got to look at smarter ways of dealing with people who make minor errors and ones that can be perhaps diverted from the criminal justice system rather than being subsumed by it."
Crime prevention is a much bigger problem than just tougher sentences.
As a community, we need to work together to tackle the very root causes of crime.
We need to ask ourselves serious questions about why young people (and others) are offending.
What sort of role models do they have at home? What values are they being taught there and at school? Who are the mentors in their life?
I remember as a young reporter visiting the home of a bloke complaining about some aspect of our welfare system. It was about 10am when I went around to his unit to do the interview.
It wasn't long before one of the family was arriving with a slab of beer.
I looked at the young boys in that household (who were home from school) and thought what hope have they got?
They were part of a third generation welfare family where 'the government' was responsible for everything wrong and was expected to fix it all.
The reality is though we are all responsible for raising the generation of tomorrow.
And that's why, despite the demonisation of churches and other youth agencies, there is a desperate, ongoing need for community-based youth programs, including those involving churches.
Of course, there needs to be tighter checks to weed out those who prey on children within such organisations - and beyond just our blue cards.
But having seen a lot of the good work that has been done by everyone from the Salvos, to school chaplains, to youth agencies, we need to encourage - and properly fund such youth intervention.
My guess is for every dollar well spent on intervention is probably ten dollars saved in terms of police, court and jail costs.
But when it comes to serious recidivist offenders, particularly those who target children, there can be nothing but firm justice.
Mark Furler is group digital editor for News Corp's regional websites. He has been a journalist based on the Sunshine Coast for more than 30 years.