Lawyer Bill Potts said jailing young offenders won't reduce crime in the long run.
Lawyer Bill Potts said jailing young offenders won't reduce crime in the long run. Contributed

This is why jail doesn't work for young offenders

JAILING young offenders is a temporary fix that won't reduce the South Burnett's crime in the long run.

Instead, the police, courts and community need to come together and look after vulnerable young people if we are to have any chance of making our community safe.

This is the opinion of Bill Potts, a veteran criminal lawyer with more than 30years' experience in the justice system.

"The cries from the public, which are perfectly understandable, for magistrates and judges to lock up people is a simple solution to a complex problem and that's simply why it won't work," he said.

Rather, we need to address the root causes of why young people commit crime.

"They include family violence, psychological issues including use of drugs, uses of chroming, foetal alcohol syndrome, intergenerational violence, poverty, lack of parental supervision and, believe it or not, hunger," Mr Potts said.

"Deterrence sentencing doesn't work. Most people who commit crimes don't think they are going to be caught.

"Locking up people is in fact just warehousing the problem, it doesn't stop the problem."

Worse still, Mr Potts believes jail promotes further offending.

"Going to jail is something that gives offenders a certain social standing and better food more often than not," he said.

It's a sad fact that most of the crime in the past 12 months has been committed by indigenous teenagers from Cherbourg. But that community is not unique.

There are many similar indigenous communities turning out a new generation of offenders.

Townsville has suffered through years of crime, much like what has been visited upon Murgon.

Mr Potts said Queensland chief magistrate Ray Rinaudo pulled resources and help from the police, the Department of Child Safety, the courts and indigenous elders for a community-wide approach.

Townsville set up bail houses so offenders had a safe place to stay away from the violence in their home, it directed offenders away from detention, gave them food, mentoring, addressed mental health problems and set up a Murri Court. Over time the crime rate dropped.

"If you are so dispossessed, if you're bashed from pillar to post at home, if you're not fed and you feel like society has abandoned you, then you're not going to respect society's law," Mr Potts said.

"When you treat kids like animals, they become animals and if we continue along this path in 20 years' time Kingaroy will reap its failure to engage with young people. It is frustrating to everyone in the justice system that we are engaged in this treadmill of despair."

Mr Potts said the first thing the community could do was reach out to the chief magistrate and work on a long-term solution.

South Burnett

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