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Research finds juvenile burglars differ from adults

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


Interviews with 87 young people facing the Children’s Court of Western Australia have provided insight into how and why juveniles are different from older burglars.

This includes that 8 per cent steal toys and 20 per cent break in for food.

“A lot of these kids are falling between the cracks,” said lead researcher Dr James McCue from Edith Cowan University’s School of Arts and Humanities.

“Most described really disadvantaged and chaotic lives, with three-quarters telling us about experiencing repeated changes in their circumstances due to having at least one parent in prison or conflict in the parents’ relationship.

“When we asked what a normal day was like, what became apparent was that most of them didn’t attend school, or went irregularly, and spent most of their time hanging out with friends.”

Eighty-five per cent of young people reported having trouble at school, including academic issues and peer conflict.

Other issues included being disciplined for verbally or physically assaulting teachers, with 54 per cent of interviewees having been suspended or expelled.

“If these kids aren’t engaged with schooling or some kind of work, and are not being supervised by parents or responsible adults, then they choose to hang out with friends, and that’s when the trouble begins,” Dr McCue said.

“Most burgled houses with other people, and cited peer pressure as a major factor.”

Only 16.1 per cent lived with both parents, while 7.4 per cent lived with friends and 9.8 per cent were in foster care or child protection.

Most recalled their parents using drugs or alcohol, and, while the interviewers didn’t ask directly, many gave strong indications of being exposed to domestic violence.

How they target homes

Unlike previous ECU research on adult offenders, young people were highly unlikely to ‘case’ a house before breaking in.

Instead, they were opportunistic, with two-thirds targeting homes with open windows or doors, which they termed places ‘asking to be burgled’.

Valuable goods left in sight was a big enticement, while dogs, alarms and cars in the driveway were deterrents.

“Being young, they didn’t always have a good concept of time, but generally they reported not staying in a place for very long,” Dr McCue said.

The young people interviewed ranged from 10 to 17 years of age. Two-thirds had burgled before, with most reporting their first burglary at age 12.

Researchers are currently working with government and community stakeholders to develop a whole-of-community approach to the issue.


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