For over 20 years, New South Wales Police Force (NSWPF) has kept a watchful eye on children they identified as being at risk of criminal behaviour through the Suspect Target Management Plan (STMP).

On February 13, NSW Police watchdog, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), presented the findings of their two-year investigation into the STMP.

Between August 2017 and August 2018, over 429 children between the ages of 9 and 17 were placed on the STMP. The STMP targeted a concerning amount of Indigenous youth.

Whilst the LECC report noted it was possible 72 percent of the children targeted were Indigenous, NSWPF are standing by their statement that only 47 percent were Aboriginal.

The STMP, designed to monitor repeat offenders and limit crime, had strayed from its path. The plan used, as the LECC described, intrusive policing tactics and unreasonable surveillance which risks an increase in youth incarceration.

Manager of Community Engagement and Partnerships at Just Reinvest NSW, Jenny Lovric, said whilst Just Reinvest NSW and all those working in the legal assistance sector had known about the existence of STMPs for some time, those who were subject to the plan were kept in the dark.

“It was obviously very disturbing to us and most people in the public legal sector that young children, even below the age of criminal responsibility, were being subject to the sometimes-invasive practices that can occur under an STMP,” Lovric said.

Just Reinvest NSW, recent winner of the Australian Human Rights Community Organisation Award, focuses on the interactions of young people, their families and community with the criminal justice system and works with communities who lead the solutions that address the drivers of that system.

“As the LECC report did point out, one of the principles of the [Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW)] is the need to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the criminal justice system.

“The use of STMPs is entirely inconsistent with that approach and the LECC rightly points out that the Police Force needs to have a rethink around what the overall aim of the Young Offenders Act is and whether their actions and practices under the STMP are consistent with the intention, spirit and principles of that important piece of legislation.”

Lovric noted that from a Just Reinvest NSW point of view, progress can be made when community are in the driving seat, and are positively supported by those within the criminal justice system.

“I obviously will not speak on behalf of every community – that would be inappropriate – but there is an appetite to reset those relationships.”

“Should there be better supports, processes and more collaborative ways of working, then there would not be a need for an STMP at all.”

“We know that early interactions with the criminal justice system are likely to lead to later and ongoing interactions with the juvenile justice system and, unfortunately, the adult criminal justice system – so anything we can do to circuit break that interaction is absolutely critical.

Lovric also said a major concern with STMPs is the emphasis on surveillance and the unwanted interactions with youth who may have never interacted with the criminal justice system.

She said there is room for positive interactions with police could be great for some young people in communities.

“There are always opportunities to do things differently and better. Our key message is to involve the community in that, and to put the voices of young people at the centre of that work.

“Trust the community, build those relationships, try different things. Through our work, we work alongside communities and aim to involve the voices and aspirations of young people any which way we can, and those voices are strong and clear and proud. If they’re listened to and acted on there is so much hope for the future.”

 

Amnesty for Indigenous youth

Amnesty International Australia has also voiced their concern. Lidia Thorpe, Indigenous Rights Lead said Amnesty has consistently called for State and Territory Governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

“This would have an immediate and positive effect on the lives of more than 600 children aged 10 to 13 years who are currently being held in detention. Around 68 percent of these kids are Indigenous,” Thorpe said.

“Evidence shows that imprisonment of young children increases recidivism and removing children from society causes long-term harm, stripping them of future opportunities.

“Our babies deserve to be with their family, friends, in school and in community-led programs that lead to better outcomes and a brighter future.”

“Indigenous people have the answers, and the overwhelming evidence shows that Indigenous-led diversion programs are hugely successful in keeping Indigenous kids out of the quicksand of the criminal justice system.”

In a statement to NIT, NSW Police Force said they have accepted all 15 recommendations of the findings and will implement them in their new STMP framework, STMP III.

“When dealing with young people, the focus of the NSW Police Force will remain prevention, intervention and diversion, which starts with positive targeting and engagement programs,” the statement read.

“STMP III is currently being trialled at select [police area commands and police districts], and is expected to be implemented statewide in the coming months.

“The NSW Police Force remains fully committed to continuing to work with the LECC to improve the utility and outcomes of STMP and ensure it is appropriately applied to young people.

“We will continue to work closely with the [Police and Community Youth Club] on a range of programs that aim to get young people job ready, break the domestic violence cycle, prevent and reduce re-offending, bring disengaged youth back into the education system and improve the overall wellbeing of at-risk youth.”

By Rachael Knowles