Expert: Why locking up young thugs isn’t the answer
Townsville residents exasperated with the youth crime crisis will intuitively want kids locked up, but the "complex problem" needs the community to come together if it's to be addressed at its core, a criminologist has said.
It comes as the city has been rocked by another spate of offending, with distressing CCTV footage playing out an eight-minute siege by a group of teenagers as they terrorise a Townsville bus driver and passengers last Wednesday.
One of the children involved allegedly robbed a convenience store several days later.
Townsville Police Child Protection Investigation Unit Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Miles described the spate as "extremely concerning", and said the children appeared to be committing crimes for the thrill of it.
"Unfortunately we see these people appear before us time and time again; our options are to use the provisions of the Youth Justice Act," he said.
"The reality is for these young people is we will hold them to account, there will be consequences, what extends as far as those consequences is a matter for the courts and the youth justice system.
"It is out of our hands."
So far five children - all of whom were known to police in some way - have been charged with 31 offences. Eight teenagers remain wanted by police.
But the issue of youth crime is a complex problem, and acting upon it requires good politicians and policy makers who are willing to strike a balance between the legitimate needs of victims and the proven ways of reducing criminality, James Cook University criminologist Dr Mark Chong said.
Dr Chong pointed to the report put together by Townsville's "Community Champion" Major-General (ret) Stuart Smith in 2018, ordered by the State Government in response to an outcry over crime, which proposed a more restorative or developmental framework in order to address youth criminality at its core.
He said it was "almost second nature" for the public to want young offenders locked up, but reams of research had shown punishment as a deterrent doesn't work well.
"(It's) essentially a community problem that stems from families (and peers) … it's how the community can get together to create scaffolding across the board so that these kids are not spending time doing anti-social activities.
"And that would take the whole suburb to come together."
Police data has revealed young offenders were to blame for at least six property offences a day across Townsville last financial year.
A surge in youth crime late last year sparked a protest outside Thuringowa MP Aaron Harper's office by frustrated community members demanding immediate action on the issue, while business leaders described the issue as a "dark shadow" over the region.