By Molly McCarthy

This brief is based on the following report: McCarthy, M. (2019). Trends In Youth Offending In Queensland, 2008 to 2017. Griffith Criminology Institute report for Queensland Police Service.

1. What problem does your research address? Why is this significant?

In the past 30 years, there has been a notable decline in the rate of offending across a broad range of international jurisdictions, including Australia (Aebi & Linde, 2010; Farrell, Tilley & Tseloni, 2014; Tonry, 2014; Weatherburn, Freeman, & Holmes, 2014), with a key driver of this decline a reduction in rates of youth offending (Kim, Bushway, & Tsao, 2016; Matthews & Minton, 2018). Recent Australian research has suggested that the number of youth offenders in New South Wales (Payne, Brown & Broadhurst, 2018) and Victoria (Milsteed & Sutherland, 2016) has been declining in recent years. The aim of this report was to better understand recent trends in offending among young people in Queensland, examining trends over a ten-year period from 2008 to 2017.

2. How did you conduct your research?

The data used for this report was extracted from the Griffith Criminology Institute (GCI) Social Analytics Lab (SAL), a custom-built secure research facility housed at Griffith University to store, manage and analyse sensitive administrative data for research and teaching purposes. The data set used for this report is Queensland Police Service (QPS) QPRIME data, an administrative database for recording information on criminal incidents entered by QPS officers and Policelink.

This analysis was primarily descriptive in nature and examined trends in offences, offending incidents, unique offenders and repeat offending among young people aged 10- to 17-years from 2008 to 2017. The analysis also considers changes in youth offending as population rates, in order to account for changes the size of the youth population, which grew over this period. It is important to note that for the period of analysis (2008 to 2017), 17-year-olds were not considered juveniles in Queensland. However, the Inclusion of 17-year-olds in this analysis reflects the contemporary definition of juvenile offenders, which was amended to include 17-year olds in 2018. 

3. What are your major findings?

Overall, the results present a mixed picture of trends in youth offending in Queensland for the 10-year period from 2008 to 2017. The total number of the young people offending in Queensland has declined over this period by 14%, from 18,801 in 2008 to 16,131 in 2017. This decline in the number of youth offenders has occurred primarily through a reduction of the number of young people who offend as a one-off or at low to moderate rates.

There has also been a concurrent growth in the size of the chronic offending population, defined in this study as being young people recorded in 10 or more criminal incidents in a year. In 2008, the chronic offender population comprised approximately 4% of all youth offenders and was responsible for 25% of youth offending incidents (a total of 11,358 incidents), while in 2017 the chronic offender population comprised approximately 7% of all youth offenders, and was responsible for 43% of youth offending incidents (a total of 21,537 incidents). This growth constituted an increase in both the number and proportion of chronic offenders in the youth offending cohort, with the number of chronic offenders increasing from 701 in 2008 to 1113 in 2017. This increase in the volume of chronic offenders, appears to be a primary driver of the increase in youth offending incidents, which grew from a total of 45,218 incidents in 2008 to 49,599 incidents in 2017, an increase of 9.6%.

Most of the growth in youth offending incidents from 2008 to 2017 was driven by incidents in which property offences, illicit drug offences or traffic and vehicle regulatory offences were the most serious offences. More serious violent offences showed relatively less growth, and in some instances declined over this period.

The gender distribution for youth offending incidents has not changed dramatically from 2008 to 2017, with the majority of offending incidents involving young males in 2017 (74.9%). However, young females showed greater relative growth in offending incidents from 2008 to 2017 than males over this period (growth of 12.2% compared to 8.7%, respectively).

Police responses to offenders aged 10- to 17-years appears to have changed somewhat from 2008 to 2017, with an overall growth in the use of arrest/warrants, and infringements for some offences, and a reduction in the use of cautions. This is particularly notable for property offending incidents, which comprises the highest volume type of offending incident type for young people.

4. What does your research mean for policy and practice?

These findings are largely consistent with other Australian jurisdictions, which have found a decline in the total number of youth offenders, alongside a stabilisation or growth in the number of repeat offenders (Milsteed & Sutherland, 2016; Payne, Brown & Broadhurst, 2018).  This suggests that this trend likely represents an overall cohort effect, with newer generations of young people being exposed to a different constellation of risk and protective factors, and opportunity contexts for offending, which have broadly altered the engagement in (traditional) offending behaviour (Farrell, Tilley, Tseloni, 2014; Kim, Bushway, & Tsao, 2016; Payne, Brown & Broadhurst, 2018; Pennay, Livingston, & Maclean, 2015). However, with the stabilisation or growth of repeat offenders, it appears that these cohort effects have not been consistent across the entire youth population.

A number of studies which have examined longitudinal offending trends have noted that offending appears to have become increasingly concentrated in a fewer number of offenders, victims and places, with concentration increasing in more socio-economically disadvantaged areas (Hunter & Tseloni, 2016; Ignatans & Pease, 2015; McVie, Norris & Pillinger, 2014; Nilsson, Estrada & Backman, 2017; Pease & Ignatans, 2016). Growth in inequalities in access to economic resources and opportunities, uneven distribution in the deterrent effect of securitisation of property, and uneven distribution on tough-on-crime resources have been argued to have resulted in a concentration of offending and victimisation in lower socio-economic areas (Nilsson, Estrada & Backman, 2017).  Differences in exposure to these factors for young people according to their socio-economic status may explain the dual process that appears to be occurring within the youth population in Australia, however further research is required to confirm this.

The proportion of offending incidents in Queensland in 2017 that are driven by the chronic youth offending cohort (43%) suggests that a key contemporary challenge for the Queensland criminal justice system is how to effectively respond to chronic offenders in order to contribute towards reduced offending behaviour and ultimately desistence. Research has found that chronic offenders are likely to have been exposed to significant cumulative disadvantage and adverse life events, including child maltreatment (Savage, 2009; Shannon, 2007; Whitten, McGee, Homel, Farrington & Ttofi, 2019).  Culturally appropriate, tailored responses to these chronic offenders, of which a significant proportion are likely to be Indigenous (Allard, McCarthy & Stewart, 2020) and located in regional and remote areas (Allard, Chrzanowski & Stewart, 2015), need to be developed. Responses need to consider the drivers of the offending behaviour, with cross-sector responses likely to be best placed to target issues such as lack of engagement in education, problematic living contexts and experiences of abuse or neglect, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, and limited employment opportunities, all issues that may be present as driving factors in the chronic offending behaviours.


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