Experimental youth program to tackle Chinchilla’s crime problem
GROWING fears residents could turn to vigilantism has led to an experimental Youth Justice program - the first of its kind - to be rolled out to tackle youth crime.
A surge in car thefts, break-ins and an increase in police pursuits through Chinchilla in the past year struck fear in the community, sparking town meetings and calls for police and the government to take action on youth crime.
Youth Justice Toowoomba and southwest service centre manager Leigh Wright said the Chinchilla-based program, YJ for a day, was designed after discussions on how to build stronger relationships within the community.
“They decided to run a program that was informal interactions with the police, the purpose of that was to build relationships between the young people, their families, and police, because there was quite a lot of angst within the community,” she said.
Ms Wright said one aspect of the program was to de-escalate tensions in the town and “to prevent inappropriate responses within the community”.
“There was a lot of activity with community members approaching the government, writing petitions highlighting their concerns around criminal activity by youth in town,” she said.
“This program evolved as a result... and Youth Justice’s approach was to de-escalate some of the angst and support our young people to feel safe in the community, and assist them in having a more positive focus, and a greater acceptance – which is as a direct result of the good work of (the Chinchilla) YJ case worker.”
Since the program started Ms Wright said they had seen significant success with young offenders making better choices, rather than turning to crime.
The Chinchilla community was reaching boiling point before the launch of a range of initiatives, with Chinchilla police officer in charge Sergeant Andrew Irvine commenting in August that if the trajectory of crime continued, it would be only a mater of time before someone was killed.
“We don’t want to see the day when someone is seriously injured or killed as a result of these actions - what a tragedy that would be for our community,” Sergeant Irvine said.
Ms Wright said the new program aimed to reduce crime and create a sense of purpose for youths who were at risk of offending.
“It also assists youth to reconnect with their community, to create a sense of inclusiveness, and develop a sense of self-worth, identity, and hopefully some positive hopes for the future,” she said.
During the weekly program YJ for a day, Ms Wright said plain-clothed police officers accompany a youth justice case worker during the young offenders reporting sessions.
Ms Wright said it was important to note that while significant juvenile crime was occurring in Chinchilla, it didn’t mean local teenagers were always responsible for the crimes.