Violent youths deserve saving too
Short of sterilising inept parents to stop them breeding and locking up their damaged offspring, how are we to tackle the explosion in youth gang crime?
They're everywhere, these rudderless kids, running amok and perpetrating violence.
If they're not stealing luxury cars and bragging about it on social media, they're laying into adults who challenge their behaviour.
Brisbane's Northside and Southside self-styled gangs are full of misplaced bravado, vandalising vehicles and property in affluent suburbs … because it's fun and rich people deserve it.
Never mind that these residents have probably worked damned hard for their Mercedes-Benz or Maserati - it doesn't matter when morals are an alien concept.
And then we see teenage thugs piling on and attacking a father outside a Logan school after he tried to defend his son from apparent abuse.
The footage that went viral - eat your heart out, Instagram-obsessed car thieves - shows a bunch of Park Ridge State High School kids brawling with the man, who is bleeding from the nose and shouts, "someone call the f***ing cops", before a boy spits in his face.
Such edifying behaviour.
The school's adopt-a-cop, acting senior sergeant Nick Edwards, says he was "blown away by the pack mentality of the students".
"We hope it is an isolated incident," he says, "and after a thorough investigation by police and Education Queensland that it sends a strong message about this highly dangerous and unlawful behaviour."
Good luck with that.
The Department of Education has not confirmed if students were expelled or suspended, merely saying the school was "working actively with the families involved and students were being dealt with in line with the school's responsible behaviour plan".
Something tells me that plan isn't crash hot, or no-one has implemented it properly.
As for working with families, this is the cornerstone of improving behaviour yet also where problems originate.
Kids who grow up in homes where public or personal property is not respected, where meaningful discipline is non-existent (smacking into kids doesn't qualify), and where adults are so drug-addled or dysfunctional they have no clue how to parent are, through no fault of their own, seriously disadvantaged.
For these children, gangs provide acceptance and an escape, into nothing good but an escape nonetheless.
That sense of belonging is crucial. We all want to feel part of something greater than ourselves; it's how we are biologically wired.
But for some misfortunates, what seems greater is the worst route they can possibly take.
In a June 2018 report on youth justice to Di Farmer, Minister for Child Safety and Youth, former police commissioner Bob Atkinson urged the government to reassess its policy making and prioritise public safety and community confidence.
Mr Atkinson identified four pillars for change: intervene early; keep children out of court; keep children out of custody; reduce reoffending.
He said elements of the "system" were sometimes counter-productive to those pillars, and a "whole-of-government response" was needed.
Two years on, youth crime is spiralling further out of control.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's web report, updated in April, the principal offence by children is "acts intended to cause injury", followed by theft, unlawful entry with intent, and property damage.
Clearly, some kids need rescuing as much as the public needs to feel safe.
Reprogramming behaviour is not easy. The previous LNP government tried boot camps, which I would have thought preferable to incarceration, but the Palaszczuk government subsequently said they were too expensive and didn't work.
Were the boot camps, like "responsible behaviour plans" in schools, simply not good enough or poorly run?
And how else can we give troubled kids a fighting chance?
We can't afford to just write these young people off, not only because every person deserves a fair go but because before long they'll be having kids of their own and perpetuating a toxic cycle.
Kylie Lang is Associate Editor of The Courier-Mail
Originally published as Violent youths deserve saving too