More kids to be jailed in ‘draconian’ crime crackdown

Maeve Bannister and Peter Bodkin |

Chris Minns says mayors, police and the public have called for more to be done to tackle crime.
Chris Minns says mayors, police and the public have called for more to be done to tackle crime.

A proposed overhaul of NSW bail laws has been described as knee-jerk reaction and a betrayal of children as the state government moves to stem rising youth crime. 

Premier Chris Minns unveiled plans to strengthen bail laws and include a temporary, extra test for older children charged with certain serious offences while they are already before the courts on similar allegations.

But the proposal has been slammed as likely to result in more children being trapped behind bars, particularly Indigenous youths.

Mr Minns acknowledged the proposed changes would result in higher incarceration rates.

“Our hope is that in the long run, with intervention and support that (incarceration rate) changes, but I’m being transparent about it,” he said on Tuesday.

The proposed legal shift would mean police and the judiciary needed a “high degree of confidence” that young people aged between 14 and 18 would not commit a further serious break-and-enter or car theft while on bail.

The teenagers could be held on remand if there was a suspicion they would offend again.

A 12-month sunset clause will apply to the overhaul, to allow the changes to be reviewed.

Greens MP Sue Higginson accused the government of buying into a “law and order moral panic” with no evidence the proposal would help reduce crime rates. 

“(This is) contravening everything we know about the solutions that we need that will help children and young people who have fallen off a good path,” she said. 

Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive Karly Warner said the proposed overhaul was a dangerous, knee-jerk reaction that would fail to reduce crime rates.

“Aboriginal children are going to bear the consequences of this … (it) sets us on a path of destruction for more crime and for communities to be unsafe,” she said.

“You only need to look at Queensland to know that this is going to be an unmitigated disaster, a race to the bottom of a tough-on-crime narrative that is going to leave the most vulnerable children in NSW locked up.” 

Queensland introduced controversial youth justice laws in March 2023 making it a crime for children to breach their bail conditions, to allow GPS trackers to be fitted on children as young as 15, and let courts declare certain youths as serious repeat offenders.

Mr Minns said mayors, police and members of the public had called for more to be done to tackle crime, particularly in NSW regions.

Another part of the proposed legislative overhaul is a new offence for so-called “posting and boasting”, adding an extra penalty of two years for anyone who steals a vehicle or commits a break-in and shares footage of the crime online.

NSW Premier Chris Minns
Chris Minns says mayors, police and the public have called for more to be done to tackle crime. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

“There’s strong circumstantial evidence provided to the government by NSW Police that this exhibition-like behaviour is in fact encouraging further and repeated criminal behaviour,” Mr Minns said.

Youth crime rates have risen statewide over the two years to September but are largely steady over a five-year time frame, according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

Property offences in regional areas, which generally have adult and youth crime rates higher than the state’s cities, have also gone up over the past two years but are down over the longer period.

The Police Association of NSW said the reforms were a strong response to address youth crime.  

“These additional tools in tightening bail conditions and harsher penalties … will provide our police with another tool to reduce the rate of repeat offenders and help support our cops in keeping their communities safe,” president Kevin Morton said.

A separate pilot program will run in the northern NSW town of Moree, where $13.4 million will be spent on provisions such as extra judicial resources, the Aboriginal Legal Service and a bail accommodation and support service for young people.

Another $12.9 million will be spent on regional measures state-wide, including an expansion of youth action meetings and Aboriginal youth patrols in several locations.