Rise in teen killers as Queensland youth crimes revealed
The number of Australian teenage killers surged last year with official crime figures also showing a worrying rise in the number of young people charged with serious offences.
Experts cite mental health issues brought on by the COVID-19 lockdown as the probable cause.
Almost 50 teens aged under 17 were convicted of homicide and related offences in 2020, including three 13-year-old boys, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistic show.
This was up from 32 the previous year.
Among other findings, the latest ABS Recorded Crime Offenders Report found:
- 518 Australians aged just 10 were prosecuted by police in 2019-20;
- Six of the 49 teenagers charged with homicide were girls aged 15 and 16; and
- There were a total of 46,949 Australians aged between 10 and 17 prosecuted, down from 49,180 the previous year. This was the lowest number since the survey began in 2008.
Of the 10-year-olds prosecuted by police last year, 104 were prosecuted for unlawful entry with intent and property damage. Sixty three were prosecuted for theft, nine for robbery and extortion, six for weapons or explosives related crimes, six for illicit drugs, four for fraud and 28 for public order offences.
The total number of young Australians (aged between 10 and 17) charged with weapons or explosives offences was 1120, while 3831 were prosecuted for illicit drug offences, the ABS figures show.
In Queensland last year two teenage girls were charged with murder, robbery, deprivation of liberty and torture after allegedly filming and egging on the brutal assault and torture of two men in a Gold Coast apartment. One of the young men plunged to his death trying to escape.
There were a total of 11,007 offenders aged between 10 and 17 in the Sunshine State in 2019-20, a fall of six per cent (or 692 offenders) from the previous year.
One in five of all teen offenders in Queensland were charged with illicit drug related offences.
Monash University faculty criminologist Professor Alex Piquero said the latest youth crimes figures showed the first signs of a worrying trend that could be directly attributable to COVID-19.
He said while politicians' knee jerk reaction to several recent incidents involving youth and crime called for "iron fist" tougher laws and police focus, a more considered longer-term approach was required.
"It's a potentially very serious issue and I don't want to raise the alarm but I want a pause for concern and try to figure out what it is about these youth that are being identified and arrested for these crimes," he said from Florida where he is also a Miami University faculty professor.
"The pandemic has really affected young children, not just in respect with them being out of school but also their mental health. (It's) affecting their levels of stress and anxiety and suicide ideation. What they are doing is lashing out and this is a phenomonea we are starting to see around the world - but you in Australia are seeing it first."
Professor Piquero said for youth it was less about living under a COVID fear and more about the disruption to school and social structure that has led to behavioural issues that need to be identified by parents and teachers before it leads to police involvement.
"The pandemic has really influenced people's mental health in ways that we are now just starting to see," he said. "You lock down, you open up, you lock down again, you open up. People are not in their elements, not around their colleagues and doing the things that all of us did pre-March 2020."
Bond University associate professor of criminology and former Queensland police Detective Dr Terry Goldsworthy agreed COVID-19 had an effect on youth crime, with declines in some categories during lockdown, but increases in more severe offences.
He said there had been a substantial increase in 15 and 16 year olds charged with the unlawful use of motor vehicles and robberies.
The majority of youths that enter the justice system would exit and never return as one-time criminals, Dr Goldsworthy said, but there were a hardcore group of offenders behind 40 per cent of crimes.
"They are the ones, the subculture who are already criminalised so when we have these youth justice crisis discussions, like in Queensland, the argument is to toughen the laws," he said. "The argument is not about putting first-time offenders in jail but those hardcore 10 per cent of recidivist offenders who are already criminalised in that subculture of crime and drugs."
Originally published as Rise in teen killers as Queensland youth crimes revealed