OPINION - ACTING EARLY CAN CUT CRIME

By Matt Keogh MP

21 October 2021

It’s a nice area but there’s a bit of crime.” This is often followed by questions about “what’s being done about it?”
 
This is not an uncommon theme when I’m out doorknocking. Too many people in my community have stories of home burglary, antisocial behaviour, vandalism and much worse.
 
Many want people caught and punished. Ultimately though, they want less crime and less victims of crime.
 
But what works?
 
We have countless research projects and pilot programs run across WA and the nation, many of which began, or continue to exist in my community in Perth’s south eastern suburbs demonstrating positive results.
 
They are evidence that early intervention with at-risk families, children and young adults can change their story and the otherwise likely trajectory of their lives.
 
We know that these intervention and support programs can change a life from one of revolving doors of interactions with the criminal justice system into one that is not only more productive for them, but that causes less heartache for their families and the community around them. These programs — like the Armadale Youth Intervention Partnership — aren’t just limited to prevention but also early intervention in negative behaviours that lead to criminal activity before they take hold, as well as rehabilitation and reintegration programs post custody.
 
Understanding how trauma impacts on behaviour and how trauma informed responses help get people back on the right track underlies the important campaign to raise the age of criminal responsibility but also demonstrates that we can’t leave the field vacant, there must be broadly available programs like AYIP to work with these young children to stay on the right track.
 
These programs ensure that people are fed, housed, schooled and trained, get access to drug and alcohol rehabilitation, support for mental health issues, and properly supported when reintegrating into our communities following incarceration.
 
One difficulty, however, is bringing the community along for the journey, not just about fulfilling its desire for punishment and deterrence — valid outcomes from our criminal justice system — but also seeing our criminal justice system deliver on a real reduction in crimes, resulting in a safer community for all.
 
Sometimes, some of the things that are proposed to deal with the causes of crime can be attacked for not being “tough enough” or disconnected from validating the experience of victims.
 
Too many politicians over time have looked at this challenge and decided to head for political safety, or worse, to look to politicise or weaponise crime and punishment as an electoral strategy against opponents.
 
But the “law-n-order” auction is not one that any party should seek to win, because as validating as it may feel to some, what it ultimately produces is destroyed lives, a revolving door of crime and, therefore, even more victims.
 
Let’s instead focus on having less crime, less victims.
 
Unfortunately, too much of this research, these short-term and limited pilot programs don’t turn into long-term broadly applied programs funded by our governments.
 
Indeed, despite the money poured into a series of different pilot programs by State and Federal governments, there’s rarely money to make these ongoing. Ultimately, the wasted opportunity here is not just to improve the lives of people that may find themselves in trouble with the law, but importantly, the opportunity is lost to make our communities safer, with less crime and with less victims of crime.
 
This lack of ongoing funding also means that the amazing organisations and staff working on these pilot programs face contract-to-contract , unsustainable employment, ultimately robbing programs of the very thing that can improve their success — the development of consistent relationships with those they are trying to assist.
 
Some have said that it should be the State Government that picks up the load on these programs because if they work, it is the State that will save money on policing, courts and corrective services.
 
True as that is, such programs also reduce costs to the Federal Government, too, things like reliance on welfare payments and less need for health services.
 
Not to mention the contribution to Federal Government revenue from more people working, paying taxes and looking after their families, ultimately contributing positively to society — massive win-wins !
 
It is about time the Federal Government worked with State governments to not only support pilot programs focusing on early intervention to prevent crime, and rehabilitation following incarceration, but also to identify the best of these, what is working, and implementing those on an ongoing basis.
 
Such programs may be attacked as being too “soft”, and they do cost money.
 
If structured properly, however, offenders will still receive appropriate consequences for their actions, and understand the impact of their actions on their victims and others, but also stop the revolving door of crime, saving the system — us as taxpayers — massive costs.
 
Ultimately, this will save lives, result in less crime, fewer victims of crime and more safer communities — I think we all would like that.
 
First published in The West Australian, Thursday 21 October