Australian Institute of Criminology

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Small minority of juveniles commit most crime

Media Release

10 February 2000

In an address to a State and Local Government Conference in Hobart today, the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Adam Graycar, called for an integrated cross-sectoral program to fight crime among juveniles. "If we can improve feelings of confidence, pride and safety within our communities, then we are on the way to a safety culture," Dr Graycar told the conference.

In Tasmania, the rates of charges against juveniles for break and enter was one-third higher (per 100,000 population) than it was for adults, while for motor vehicle theft it was almost double. Ten years ago, the rates for adults and juvenile were fairly similar.

Dr Graycar told the conference that:

  • A small minority of offenders commit the significant majority of offences.
  • An early age of onset of offending foreshadows a long criminal career and many offences.
  • Young offenders tend to be versatile and rarely specialise (e.g. in violent offending).
  • They are also versatile in committing other types of antisocial behaviour, including heavy drinking, drug-taking, dangerous driving and promiscuous sex.

The early indicators, he said were:

  • covert antisocial behaviour (e.g., lying, stealing);
  • overt antisocial behaviour (e.g., aggression, fighting);
  • poor school performance;
  • abuse of hard drugs or alcohol; and
  • association with delinquent peers.

He proposed a 4 part strategy to reduce criminal activity by young people:

  1. Strengthening social capital.
  2. Working with people.
  3. Building partnerships.
  4. A commitment to an evidence-based approach backed by evaluation.

We don't know when kids start offending, but we do know that it peaks at ages 15 to 17. In a New South Wales survey of 5,178 secondary school students about year 10 was the peak year for male offending.

Dr Graycar delivered the speech at the "Young People and Crime: Breaking the Cycle" seminar being held at Laetare Gardens, 37 Hopkins Street, Moonah, Tasmania on 10 February 2000.