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Youth justice and the media: perspectives from our TSL participants

15 December 2016

News and media


Today’s Herald Sun and Age newspapers demonstrate the constant tension in our news reporting of youth crime – is it falling or rising? Are we soft on dangerous young criminals or do we not give enough support to the vulnerable youth who come into contact with our justice system?

The front page of the Herald Sun (pictured below) continues its reporting of ‘mega gang’ Apex and associated carjackings, home invasions and rioting. Page 17 of The Age (also pictured below), however, features a report from the Sentencing Advisory Council showing that youth crime in Victoria is rare and falling.


Earlier this year, participants in our Towards Strategic Leadership program investigated just this issue. The group of 40 public sector managers spent a day immersed in various aspects of Victoria’s youth justice system, talking to government departments, staff at secure facilities, NGOs, magistrates, police, and young people themselves. The following day they presented some ideas about issues and challenges back to stakeholders from the system. We produced a report featuring their insights; one of their conclusions was that headlines like today’s Herald Sun front page do nothing to help the situation:

“…the sense from the media is that carjackings, home invasions and youth gangs sell newspapers because they are what the public wants to read about. In turn, stories about youth crime and disorder featuring emotive language such as ‘thugs’ and ‘crime spree’ fuel fears of the threat to public safety posed by young people who are ‘out of control’. These fears by their very nature lead to a demand for punitive approaches, and make trauma-informed and strength-based approaches seem ‘soft on crime’. Prevention is seen as a luxury that society cannot afford in the present ‘crisis’ of youth criminality. Unfortunately, research evidence shows that tough on crime responses have little, or in fact detrimental, effects on youth crime.”

Our participants saw changing the narrative of youth crime to allow for rehabilitation and trauma-informed approaches as essential to improving Victoria’s youth justice system. They also emphasised the benefits of early intervention, and the requirement for a shared vision for the youth justice system (with children’s voices and needs firmly at the centre).