News

Preventing a life of crime


29 April 2008

If we can identify children at risk of offending before they appear in the criminal justice system, we may be able to improve their future prospects, Professor Kenny said.
If we can identify children at risk of offending before they appear in the criminal justice system, we may be able to improve their future prospects, Professor Kenny said.

A whole range of support strategies are required to stop young people from falling into a life of crime, according to research on young people in custody and on those serving orders in on the community.

Improved literacy and numeracy, vocational training, living conditions and mentoring are key areas that need attention, according to a new book by Professor Dianna Kenny from the University of Sydney and Paul Nelson from UNSW.

"We found that more than 60% of those we surveyed while researching the book had parents or other relatives who had spent time in prison," Professor Kenny said.

"They also had lower education levels, and higher than average exposure to risky lifestyle behaviours, including drug and alcohol abuse and unprotected sex."

Titled Young offenders on community orders: health, welfare and criminogenic needs, the book will be launched tonight by Professor Chris Cunneen, the UNSW Global Chair in Criminology.

It details the family background, physical and mental health, educational difficulties, and alcohol and drug use of 800 young offenders. Interestingly, despite their disadvantaged backgrounds and bleak prospects, more than half had a positive outlook on life.

Professor Kenny's research presents a challenge to policy makers to focus on support for families with a history of crime.

"If we can identify children at risk of offending before they appear in the criminal justice system, we may be able to improve their future prospects," she said.

"Prevention and support, rather than punishment, may help our young people break the cycle of offending."

Editor's note: The research project is one of the most extensive ever conducted on young people serving community orders (court-directed supervision by the department, including good behaviour bonds, probation, community service or parole). The study was jointly funded by the Australian Research Council, the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice and Justice Health.

About the authors: Dianna Kenny is a professor of psychology at the University of Sydney. Paul Nelson is a PhD student with the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

For interviews contact: Dianna Kenny, ph 0425 358 275

Sydney University Press


Contact: Kath Kenny

Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100