Date of Award

1992

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr Anne Atkinson

Abstract

During 1990 and 1991, community anxiety about juvenile crime increased. These concerns were mainly concentrated on the levels of car theft and the accidents, including several fatalities which had resulted from police high speed pursuits of stolen cars driven by juveniles. Certain sections of the community demanded longer and mandatory sentences to detention for young car thieves. In line with modern criminological research, the policies of the Western Australian government were directed towards seeking alternative strategies to strict detention as sanctions for young offenders. Therefore inspite of the populist community pressure throughout 1991, the government refused to accede to these demands. Based on an analysis of media content during 1991 and juvenile crime statistics, this thesis argues that the mass media played an active part in increasing the anxieties of the public by its extensive, sensational and emotive coverage of the events which occured in 1991. The reporting of juvenile crime in the West Australian did not correlate with the numbers of offences committed. Although coverage increased substantially in the second half of 1991, juvenile crime rates decreased in that period compared with the first six months. The public therefore received a distorted perception that juvenile crime was increasing, and out of control. In addition to newspaper coverage, juvenile crime was discussed extensively on the Sattler File radio talk-back programme. From an examination of tapes and transcripts of this programme, it can be deduced that the presenter encouraged the views that heavy penalties were the solution, and with his active assistance, a Rally for Justice was organised which was attended by 30,000 people. Populist community demands for harsher sentences were resisted by the government, but the forces for change became irresistible when the deaths of Margaret and Shane Blurton and the subsequent emotional Candlelight Vigil acted as catalysts to influence public sentiments further. Events which again, were sensationalized by the media. Despite of considerable opposition based on Legal and Social justice principles, the government introduced and passed the Crime (Serious and Repeat Offenders) Sentencing Act, 1992, a piece of Legislation which directly contradicted the stated aims of the government to reduce the number of juveniles being sentenced to detention and to provide a justice system which would be fair to all sections of the community.

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