Mentoring crucial to tackle youth crime in Townsville

Townsville Bulletin, 3 May 2014
At a time when anger over youth crime in Townsville has led to calls for tougher ­action against offenders, the man in charge of north Queensland’s boot camp says punishments must be matched by genuine support for kids struggling to find their way.

Beyond Billabong chief executive officer Boyd Curran has dealt with young criminals for years and says the most ­effective weapon in the fight against youth crime is early ­intervention. The organisation won the contract to run the State Government’s boot camp and while that program mentors kids after they have fallen into crime, Mr Curran says getting to them earlier is the key.

“The challenges that young people (in our programs) have faced, where they are raised in very dysfunctional environments, where there is a high amount of drug use and ­alcohol use, where kids don’t have anything to eat for days at a time and there are limited positive role models, that makes it very difficult for any child to lead a positive life.”

Most of the public debate on youth crime has focused on tougher laws but Mr Curran believes the Government is looking beyond punishments to come up with new support networks for kids. Beyond Billabong’s boot camp has two mentors in Townsville and others in Cairns and elsewhere, to support young offenders after their four-week stint in the boot camp. Mr Curran said the mentoring was the key to success and he was hopeful the Government will approve an increase of those numbers.

Thuringowa MP Sam Cox, who has been closely involved with Mr Curran’s program, said the office of Attorney- General Jarrod Bleijie was working on a blueprint that would form a wide-ranging strategy to reduce youth crime, including strategies for mentoring.

He rejected suggestions the Government was only interested in tough punishments and said the entire point of the boot camp was to create an alternative to detention centres and provide mentoring and training for young offenders.

“We have got tough on crime and that was the feedback we got (from the community) when we came to government,” he said.

“But there is a balance you’ve got to put with that and we are looking at options and projects and services that are going to help with early intervention. We’ve got to find a way to turn that tap off.”

Mr Cox said the Attorney- General’s blueprint would create strategies to form partnerships addressing the causes of crime and support young people before their criminal behaviour became “entrenched”.

The Government is watching the boot camp closely as it reviews what does and doesn’t work ahead of the completion of its blueprint. Mr Cox said getting more mentors on the ground was a possibility.

“I have got no problems at all with that and mentoring outside of the boot camp program a well,” he said. 
"(However), we are very cautious and we don’t want to get caught running into it.
“We’ve got to make sure we have got the people who can provide that mentoring.
“We don’t just want to put an ad in the papers saying ‘All mentors welcome’.’’

In an electorate that experiences a high rate of youth crime, Mr Cox faces pressure to get results on the issue. The Labor candidates nominated for the region’s electorates will push youth crime as a big issue at next year’s election. Mx Cox said tackling the problem required a strategy spanning across several departments, including the justice, education, police and child safety ministers.

Child Safety is one area that Mr Curran wants to see reformed, as the breakdown in parenting skills has impacted many of the kids he works with. 

Queensland’s Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, led by Child Protection Commissioner Tim Carmody, has provided 121 recommendations to Child Safety Minister Tracy Davis. The Government promised to implement at least 115 of those recommendations.

Davide Sparkes Reporter Townsville Bulletin, May 03 2014 
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