A decline in youth crime in New South Wales could be down to the popularity of social media and video streaming services, according to research from the Australian National University.
The ANU looked at NSW Police data of crime rates for young people who were born in 1984, compared to those born in 1994.
It found the proportion of the population who had come into contact with the criminal justice system had halved.
Criminologist Jason Payne said the decline could be down to young people changing their habits.
“We now have kids who are engaging much more often online, using mobile and other portable devices in the home and spending less time out on the street,” Dr Payne said.
“An increased use of home entertainment and social media is also reducing opportunities for traditional forms of crime.”
The ANU study found significant reductions in vehicle and property theft, and drink driving.
“Almost every crime, across the board, declined,” Dr Payne said.
“The most significant declines were seen in the property offending categories; shoplifting, motor vehicle theft, those kinds of crimes.”
Antisocial behaviour moving online
However, Dr Payne said the digital environments young people were now using opened the possibility of new criminal activities.
“We don’t really know what’s going on significantly in that online world,” he said.
“Online bullying, the playing around with hacking techniques are all the things that kids, these days, might be doing that don’t traditionally or easily come to the attention of the criminal justice system.
“We can’t be blind to the potential transferal or transmission of that behaviour into the online world.”
Policing style has made a difference
Dr Payne said there were also other factors at play that had helped reduce youth crime.
“Our police, but also our criminal justice system, have come to work differently with young kids,” he said.
“Police for many years have had diversionary programs, cautioning programs — the kinds of programs designed to stop kids having contact with the criminal justice system for very low-level and minor offences.
“That hard work of the police is starting to translate here in this data.”
Dr Payne said the long-term benefits could be significant.
“Certainly, hopefully, we might imagine fewer people in prison as a consequence of having invested a lot of time in keeping kids out of the criminal justice system.”