In the past few months, crime, and in particular, youth crime, has dominated the headlines of the news media. The solution to this complex problem being proposed by some states is to increase rates of incarceration. The Queensland and New South Wales Governments have recently introduced harsher penalties for young offenders, despite opposition from human rights proponents. 

Despite the moral panic surrounding youth crime in the media, criminology expert and Academy Fellow Professor Eileen Baldry asserts that, according to research, rates of offending have been generally decreasing over the past decade for practically all types of crime, except domestic violence. 

In the latest episode of the Academy’s Seriously Social podcast, Professor Baldry and journalist Ginger Gorman examine the facts behind the clickbait to find out exactly who Australia is locking up—and the answer is quite disturbing.  

Almost everyone who goes to prison in Australia comes from a disadvantaged background,’ Professor Baldry says.  

People with disability, particularly mental health, cognitive, psychosocial disability, are massively overrepresented. People with drug addiction, poverty, and disadvantage, are significantly overrepresented.’

Justen Thomas, a youth justice advocate, is one individual whose experience of living as a First Nations person with a cognitive disability, and a background including family violence and removal from his family of origin, is an often-repeated one within the prison system. Justen’s first encounter with the justice system came at the age of twelve, and by fifteen years of age, with $7,000 of unpaid fines to his name, Justen was incarcerated.  

The podcast episode explores Justen’s lived experience in more detail and aims to shed light on better ways of approaching young people who are at risk of entering the criminal justice system due to multiple factors that contribute to social disadvantage, including systemic race-based bias, disability and poverty. 

All of these things add up to making a person highly vulnerable to being managed by the police…what we are doing is locking up the most vulnerable people,’ argues Professor Baldry. 

Listen online or anywhere you get your podcasts.