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Youth workers, not police, needed in schools

Youth workers, not police, needed in schools

By Karin Derkley

Police Young Persons 

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The Opposition's proposal to embed police in Victorian schools will do nothing to prevent youth crime and will instead foster a schools-to-prison pipeline, youth justice advocates say.

Opposition leader Matthew Guy says that putting police in schools identified as “having specific youth needs or at-risk challenges” will build respect between young people and police.

But chief executive of the Police Accountability Project, lawyer Anthony Kelly, describes the proposal as a "flawed and outmoded concept".

“These initiatives are based on the idea that if we educate young people to have more respect for police then things would be different. But what Mr Guy doesn't understand is that there is already a lot of police presence in the lives of these young people. They're already involved in basketball and soccer programs and camps run by police, and then they are constantly being stopped and searched by police as they walk home, they're being targeted by PSOs at stations, and followed by store security guards when they go out.

“It doesn’t matter how many respectful relationships these young people have with police if they are being targeted and abused by other police on the street,” he says.

Embedding police in schools would mean there is never any let up to that interaction, he says. Uniformed police are not well suited to be educators because of the nature of their role and because they have a tendency towards the “scared straight” approach that assumes that young people will be deterred if they are made aware of the possible consequences of their criminal behaviour, he adds.

US research has found that “scared straight” practices can increase crime by up to 28 per cent, says Smart Justice for Young People convenor Tiffany Overall.

“Teenagers’ ability to anticipate the consequences of their conduct is at a low point during adolescence,” she says. “Some youth may even interpret Scared Straight tactics as a challenge to their ability to beat the consequences.”

If police are involved in schools to respond to students’ behaviour, that is likely to be even more counter-productive, says Mr Kelly. “Having police in schools has been shown to be highly problematic in the US, where children and young people with behavioural problems end up being criminalised because of police involvement.”

"Young people who are vulnerable, at risk or from marginalised backgrounds or, when racial bias comes into play, are of a particular ethnicity, are more likely to be treated as criminals rather than get the support they need.”

Police contact in itself is criminogenic, Mr Kelly says. "As soon as you get police around you're bringing up the probability of someone being caught for disobeying a police directive for refusing to hand over their mobile phone, or for resisting arrest or using abusive language if they walk away or become frustrated.”

Ms Overall says the proposed $50 million would be better spent on resourcing schools. “Instead of full-time police officers, why not resource our schools with more full-time youth workers, student welfare workers, psychologists and other health specialists to provide disadvantaged and struggling students with more intensive staff support they individually require to help get to the heart of and address issues they are experiencing in their lives, that could otherwise result in offending behaviour."


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