Media Statement: Safety in Regional and Rural Communities Inquiry

The New South Wales Legislative Assembly Committee on community safety in regional and rural communities is focused on investigating drivers of youth crime in regional and rural NSW and how community safety can be improved.

Rather than empowering the Government to criminalise more conduct, increase sentences, and more permissively incarcerate people, we urge the Committee to look to solutions which focus on the causes of crime, harm minimisation and creating connected and inclusive communities where children can thrive.

Measures taken need to be proportionate to the need for concern. We should not pander to the public “law and order” demands by some politicians and sections of the media through tougher laws and policies which have historically had adverse consequences. The focus should be on addressing underlying issues that lead to harm.

Comments from Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

“Whilst youth crime certainly exists and can have devastating effects for individuals and communities, particularly in regional NSW, we know from the evidence that implementing harsher laws and increasing youth detention is not the solution.”

“The evidence is clear that locking children up does not make communities safer. Our kids should be in the playground, not in a jail cell. By imprisoning our children, we are creating another generation who may reoffend into adulthood.”

“Context and background are the most critical factors to understanding the causes of, and reducing rates of, harm caused by young people. Many youth offenders have similar stories of parental incarceration and being of a lower socioeconomic background. We need to invest in resources to support these kids. Locking children up in an incredibly expensive jail cell is not the answer.”

“The impact of jail, especially remand, on children aged 10 – 17 years old is significant. We know from the evidence that this just leads to higher rates of re-offending. There is also a worrying increase in children being held on remand for months at a time. We need to address the issues to prevent our kids from ending up in jail and break the cycle of reoffending.”

“We urge the Inquiry to be bold in recommending that the age of criminal responsibility be raised to fourteen years. The Inquiry also ought to give serious consideration to implementing a prohibition on all incarceration of Juveniles for drug uses and possession, breach of bail offences and traffic offences to keep children out of prisons which only contribute to their chances of causing further harm to their communities.”

“Breaking the cycle of youth crime is not easy, even if there is not the epidemic that some sections of the media and politicians chose to promote, we must continue to work towards breaking the cycle to ensure that all children feel safe and can thrive in communities of care without causing harm.”

“We urge regional communities to avoid being caught up in the media and political narrative. Politicians should be working on long term, lasting solutions rather than focussing on the next election. They should pursue solutions which are evidence based to provide better outcomes for the individual and society, by increasing prevention, interrupting the pattern of re-offending which will ultimately result in safer communities and better outcomes for children. We know that initiatives like Drug Court, Circle Sentencing and Justice Reinvestment programs do make a positive difference. We call on our politicians, including Local Mayors, to support the evidence and invest in programs that work.”

“Until we address the root causes of youth crime using evidenced based solutions rather than knee-jerk reactions from politicians looking for votes, we will continue to waste tax-payers money on the enormous cost of incarcerating kids.”

The Committee is accepting public submissions until 31 May 2024. To read the inquiry's terms of reference, and to make a submission, please visit the Committee's webpage.