Cairns youth crime punishment warning as city endures record spate of car thefts

Cairns youth crime punishment warning as city endures record spate of car thefts

Amy Grant couldn’t stop worrying about the worst-case scenario as she drove around Cairns looking for her family’s stolen 4WD.

The keys to the LandCruiser had been taken from the Grant family’s caravan while they slept inside.

It was one of about 800 vehicles reported stolen in the Cairns region so far this year, eclipsing the yearly record set in 2021 in just the first three quarters of the year.

“Let’s have a think about a 13-year-old driving down the Bruce Highway in and out of traffic, going from suburb to suburb,” Ms Grant said.

“As a mum, for those first few days, I’m thinking there’s a likelihood my car could kill a family.”

The theft left her family and their caravan effectively stranded in Cairns, the final destination of an east coast road trip the Albury residents had been enjoying.

Deadly consequences

Car thefts in Far North Queensland have already ended in tragedy this year.

A 14-year-old boy was killed in February when an allegedly stolen car he was a passenger in crashed into a tree at high speed in suburban Cairns.

The Grant family’s stolen car was captured on CCTV being driven in Cairns.(Supplied)

There have been near misses too.

Police said two pedestrians had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit when a 17-year-old girl drove a stolen car on to a footpath to get away from officers on Sunday evening.

Police have repeatedly pleaded with residents to make their cars more difficult to steal by ensuring their vehicles and homes were locked and keys kept in a secure place.

Alternatives needed

Criminologist Shannon Dodd, from Australian Catholic University, said taking a purely punitive stance against young offenders “could actually make it worse.”

“I understand why these issues cause a lot of community concern and certainly as a parent, I can understand wanting to feel safe,” Dr Dodd said.

“But as a criminologist and knowing the research, I couldn’t justify approaches which are aimed at taking a harsher stance toward these young people; throwing the book at them per se.

“I know that’s what a lot of people call for but unfortunately, what we might see as the likely result of that is individuals becoming entrenched in the justice system.”

Front of Cairns police station in far north Queensland in July 2017.
Police urge drivers to hide their keys and lock their homes and cars.(ABC News: Emilia Terzon )

Dr Dodd is helping lead a new six-week trial program for up to 20 young people aged 13 to 20 that aims to better understand why at-risk youth choose to go joyriding in stolen cars.

The program, to take place in Townsville, will combine educational sessions with hands-on activities “that get their heart racing”.

Mareeba Shire Mayor Angela Toppin said she wanted juvenile offenders sent to remote areas to take part in diversionary programs.

“These are young 10, 11, 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds maybe, [who] can be sent to gain both social and vocational skills rather than be sent to a youth detention facility,” she said.

Queensland Police and Corrective Services Minister Mark Ryan have been contacted for comment.