Juvenile offenders shown grisly reality of risk-taking behaviour

WA juvenile offenders have met with patients suffering from serious injuries, as part of a groundbreaking research project aimed at curbing risk-taking behaviour in young people.

“The participants receive a range of lectures first, detailing what risk-taking and challenging behaviour is and how it can impact on themselves and other people,” Dr Ho. Image: Istock

The joint initiative by the Royal Perth Hospital and UWA placed 225 juvenile justice offenders through the P.A.R.T.Y (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) program between 2006 and 2010. Most of the participants had previously been involved in acts of violence, and traffic-related incidents such as D.U.I and speeding, or drug-related offences.

Injury is the leading cause of death among young people, responsible for two-thirds of deaths in those under the age of 24 in Australia. Motor vehicle accidents account for the vast majority of these, with drug use often a considerable factor.

Dr Kwok-Ming Ho says P.A.R.T.Y is a one-day injury awareness program aimed at curbing injuries from risk-taking behaviour. There is also positive behaviour support that they could look into.

“The participants receive a range of lectures first, detailing what risk-taking behaviour is and how it can impact themselves as well as other people,” he says.

“Then they are taken to meet patients of the emergency department, state-trauma and intensive care units of Royal Perth Hospital that have been involved in risk-taking behaviour and suffered serious injuries as a result.

“Many of these patients might have lost fingers, legs or arms or even be paraplegic. The participants see immediately the consequences of risk taking behaviour and the message is for them to think in advance before being in a position where they have no control over the situation.”

Researchers used data from the WA Police and Department of Health to show subsequent traffic or violence-related offences were significantly lower for those who had attended the program as were injuries leading to hospitalization and alcohol or drug-related offences.

The final report says the before and after a survey of these participants showed that 57% were more receptive to modifying their risk-taking behaviour after taking part in the program, up from 21% before referral.

Dr Ho says the majority of participants remained quiet, though some did ask questions regarding the history of the individuals.

“We had some uncertainty at the time, but when we did the feedback, we could see a definite psychological impact through the recognition of the potential impact on themselves and their family, or other families,” he says.

“We demonstrated quite clearly that at least those that participated in the program had a much lower risk of reoffending and a reduced risk of injury as a result.”