By Joel McGregor
PhD Candidate, University of Newcastle
Media reporting of youth and crime is often saturated with harmful and reductive stereotypes which can further demonise and marginalise young people who already suffer structural disadvantage. In order to better understand youth crime, we must move beyond such representations to reflect upon the way youth engage with their physical environment including their relationship to the community, their family and friends, and the power relations that serve to regulate their lives.
An interesting recent example of changing commentary on youth crime stems, most surprisingly, from comments made by Bob Katter (member of the Australian House of Representatives, leader of the conservative ‘Katter’s Australian Party’) which prompted changes and additions to an article on ABC online. Following Katter’s comments, a headline ‘Youth crime making Queensland town ‘hell’’ was changed to ‘Crimes of boredom’. Titles within the article continue to be altered. The article follows debates about young offenders in North Queensland where, ‘in the last three months, 95 children have been charged with more than 450 crimes ranging from assault, to breaking into homes and stealing cars’. The article is focused on Far North Queensland town of Edmonton where residents are reported to believe the crimes are being undertaken by ‘gangs’ of local youth between the ages of 10 and 19 years old. The article suggests that the majority of offenders are Indigenous. The character who participates in crime reflected within the article is stereotypical across majority of cultural fields. In my own research, I aim to move beyond surface notions of youth participation of crime to understand the concatenations of masculinity and affect in relation to participation and desistance from crime for youth in the Newcastle, Australia.
Bob Katter, the federal member for this district, stated that ‘If you’ve got to go home to a home where there are 15 people, or in some cases no home at all, you’ll tend to get in mischief. A lazy mind, a not used mind, is a devil’s workshop and that’s part of it too – just simply boredom.’ The acknowledgement that boredom is a key reason for participation in crime is an important step for public understanding of the reasons why youth participate in crime. It is a small glimmer of hope that we can move beyond politically motivated debates of youth being a ‘problem’ in need of management to reflecting upon the individual histories that affect participation in crime. But, further work is needed.
Wyn and White (1997:62) suggest that young people do not just construct their identities as individuals but also do so in relation to their physical environment. In his statement presented above, Katter recognises this. Yet, this ‘problem’ further attention and understanding that goes beyond ‘boredom’ alone. For this, France, Bottrell & Armstrong (2012:5) undertake a ‘political ecology approach’ to understanding youth crime which recognises that the ‘everyday worlds’ that youth participate in are the product of ‘external political forces’ (France, Bottrell & Armstrong, 2012:5). Sensationalised perspectives of youth crime, often politically driven and promoted through the media, see criminal activity as young people who have done something wrong and need to be managed. Unfortunately, political motivations often see that the debate does not go beyond stereotypes to identify the reasons why youth participate in crime.
Important factors such as community, family and personal biographies are typically ignored in mainstream discussions of young people and crime. These factors are continually being recognised within the social sciences yet this needs to extend to the wider political debate and media representations.
France, A, Bottrell, D & Armstrong, D 2012, A Political Ecology of Youth and Crime, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
Wyn, J White, R, 1997, Rethinking Youth, Allen and Unwin, Australia.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2012, Youth crime making Queensland town ‘hell’, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-09/youth-crime-making-far-north-town-27hell27/4303932