The current Queensland Labor government, led by Annastacia Palaszczuk, has announced it will reverse a number of harsh laws brought in by the former Newman LNP government.
The Opposition has predictably responded by claiming Labor is soft on crime.
The changes are essentially a return the pre-Newman era, including:
- Youth “boot camps” will no longer be a sentencing option,
- Young offenders will no longer have their offences disclosed to the public,
- 17-year-olds will be kept out of adult prisons until they turn 18, and
- Prison will again be the last resort regardless of the offence.
Attorney-General Yvette D’ath says the changes focus on rehabilitating and diverting children away from the criminal justice system, rather than stigmatising and alienating them from the community through harsh punishment.
Ms D’ath is of the view that punishing young people is counter-productive, pulling them further into a life of crime rather than steering them away.
“Increasing the severity of punishment is a blunt and ineffective tool when it comes to reducing recidivism, particularly with respect to children and young people,” Ms D’ath said.
“The bills usher in a reform agenda that is about real impacts and changes.”
LNP Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan has come out with the usual ‘tough-on-crime’ rhetoric, saying Labor’s approach will increase offending.
“They are not soft on crime — they’re marshmallows,” he told Parliament.
“Youth in Queensland will be exactly back to where they were a few years ago – a 14-year-old will be at the youth detention centre in Townsville, they’ll walk out of the youth detention centre straight into a car back to a community and they’ll still be committing the crimes,” he said.
LNP Broadwater MP Verity Barton joined the chorus, saying:
“It’s another attempt to ‘de-Newmanise’ Queensland and turn back the clock”.
Shadow Attorney-General, Ian Walker, said it was too early to assess the Newman laws, but they “appeared to be making an impact”.
Ineffective Camps and Claims of Corruption
The youth boot camps turned out to be much more expensive than predicted – blowing out by an extra $16.7 million. The trial program had been plagued by allegations of corruption in the awarding of private contracts.
Former Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, independently decided that one of the camps would be run by ‘Beyond Billabong’ in January 2014, overruling his own department’s decision to award the contract to another company. Beyond Billabong’s Chief Executive then made a $5,500 donation to the LNP a week after the award.
“There was an abuse of the process, it [the report] alludes to favouritism but most importantly, taxpayers money was wasted,” Premier Palaszczuk said at the time.
An independent evaluation by KPMG found the camps failed to cut youth reoffending. Of the 74 young people sentenced, 47 to 63.5 per cent had reoffended, at least as high as general reoffending rates. The average cost of keeping a young person at Lincoln Springs west of Ingham, was $2,350 a day, compared to $999 for youth detention.
“[The evaluation] has found that the youth boot camps do not break the cycle of repeat offending and recidivism rates,” Ms D’ath said.
“There is simply no justification to put more money into programs that are failing to address reoffending.”
Rehabilitation a Better Option
Labor says it will put more funding into rehabilitation programs, including the reinstatement of court-referred youth justice conferencing through the allocation of $23.6 million over four years
Ms D’ath pointed out that Queensland is the only jurisdiction in Australia which sends 17-year-olds to adult prisons, a law which breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
She believes sending children to adult prisons increases the likelihood of them learning new criminal techniques, and that actively seeking to address their underlying issues and diverting them away from custody is a far better option.