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Substance abuse a factor in juvenile crime

Media Release

27 October 2005

Substance abuse has been identified as an important factor in the offending patterns of young people, Dr Toni Makkai, the Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology said today.

At a conference on chronic youth offending in Adelaide, Dr Makkai today released the latest reports from the Australian Institute of Criminology, Alcohol, drugs and crime: a study of juveniles in detention and Key findings from the drug use careers of juvenile offenders study.

The primary focus of this research was on the drug and alcohol use and criminal careers of 371 young people aged between 11 and 17 years who were sentenced to or remanded in detention in 2004.

This research is part of a wider project on the drug use careers of offenders that has already reported on drugs used by adult male and female prisoners in Australia.

"The report found that in the six months before entering detention, 71% of youths had used one type of substance regularly and 29% used more than one type of substance regularly", Dr Makkai said.

"One third of the juveniles attributed their most recent offending to their drug and alcohol use", Dr Makkai said. Seventy per cent of the juveniles reported that they were under the influence of substances at the time of committing the offence leading to their detention. This rate is higher than reported by incarcerated adult males (62%) and adult females (58%).

The most common type of substance used regularly was cannabis (63%) followed by alcohol (46%) and amphetamines (20%).

The report found that half of the juveniles had commenced offending before their first use of drugs. Regular offenders tended to experiment with substances at an earlier age than non-regular offenders.

Offenders were involved in a range of offences across their criminal careers. Almost all of the juveniles had committed property offences (98%), while 84% had engaged in violence.

The most common type of self reported regular offences were buying drugs (76%), burglary (65%), stealing without break-in (56%) and trading in stolen goods (55%).

Almost one third of the juveniles had been sentenced to detention once or twice before; 17% had been sentenced to detention between three and six times prior to their current incarceration; and 4% had been sentenced to detention seven or more times previously.

The reports highlight the importance of a whole-of-government approach and inter-agency cooperation to ensure that the range of factors that can lead to drug use and offending are addressed. This includes programs that address issues such as drug use, housing needs, skills development, as well as individual and family support for chronic young offenders.

The report also highlights the need to target risk factors, such as abuse, neglect and family drug use, earlier in a child's development.