Jobs, not jail, an answer to fight against crime

Giving young offenders something to lose – a job – can be a more effective deterrent than jail time.

That was one of the major findings of a published report into an Australian Catholic University pilot program that exposed those at risk of car theft and joyriding to motor industry careers.

A welcome outcome of the program was a paid panel beating apprenticeship accepted by one of the participants following the course that also placed the inaugural group face-to-face with victims of crime.

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  • The prospect of gaining, or losing, a job is a stronger motivator than incarceration for joyriders
  • Some participants likened the adrenalin rush from car theft to the effects of drug or alcohol use.
  • Participants noted, yet often disregarded, fears of death or injury as the result of a car accident.

ACU criminology lecturer Dr Shannon Dodd was one of the architects of Deterring Drivers, a community-based intervention that aimed to rehabilitate north Queensland teenagers who engaged, or were considered at risk of engaging, in car theft.

The six-week course, held this year in Townsville, was designed for people aged 13-17 and with a specific focus on at-risk First Nations youth.

Participants dismissed the spectre of police charges as a deterrent, according to Dr Dodd, and instead were motivated to change unlawful and unsocial behaviour by the prospect of paid employment.

“There are alternative pathways, rather than a punitive approach, to rehabilitation,” she said.

“If you give young people something to lose, like a job, that can be a powerful stimulus to snap their feelings of powerlessness and hopefully spark change. It also encourages young people to see their potential for the future.”

Funded by the Queensland Government’s Department of Children, Youth Justice, Employment, Small Business and Training, ACU’s Deterring Drivers pilot program engaged seven teenagers in its inaugural cohort.

Its aim was to better understand the motivations of young offenders and trial novel approaches to deter them.

Participants in the program attended weekly sessions beginning with educational talks from experts in medicine, policing, or psychology, together with talks delivered by crime victims.

There were additional hands-on recreational activities, such as panel beating workshops, designed to

channel participants’ interest in cars in a positive, safe, and legal manner.

According to the report “The Deterring Drivers: An Initiative to Reduce Car Theft

and Joyriding by Young People in Townsville”, key findings included:

  • Participants typically reported they were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol

while joyriding.

  • Joyriding can increase a young person’s perceived social status and provide an opportunity

to “show off” to their peers

  • Participants were mostly dismissive of the idea that the thought of getting in trouble with

their parents or police would deter young people from joyriding.

Although de-identified for ethical and privacy reasons, participants’ interview responses were recorded in the report.

When asked if having a job would make a difference to the likelihood of re-offending, one participant said:

“If I had a job, then that’s something for me to look up to as well. I can be my own role model.

“If I keep doing this then I won't be my own role model.”

Dr Dodd said youth crime was a complex and acrimonious topic but calls to get tough on offenders failed to address the root causes.

“These young people are often not engaged in education, come from volatile environments, have had negative experiences with police and they feel powerless,” she said.

“Do we want to help them towards a safer, happier life? Or are we intent on throwing the book and entrenching them further into the criminal justice system?”

While funding limited the pilot program’s scope to north Queensland, an expansion to other sites would allow for a statewide evaluation to test its overall effectiveness in reducing youth crime.

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