As the debate over Bail laws for juveniles rages, the proponents on the side of the ‘relaxation of laws’, ‘for the good of the child’ have lost sight of reality.
The two concepts, ‘relaxation of laws’ and ‘for the good of the child’ is an oxymoron.
A sceptic may also conclude that this move is a cynical government strategy to show how the youth problem has diminished by excluding large numbers of the youngest cohort from the statistical criminal matrix, thereby solving the youth problem.
The problem, however, is the giant chasm between what these proponents preach and the reality the juvenile interprets.
Some time ago, the CAA met with the executives of a well-known and, up until that time, in our view, a highly respected major youth-focused charitable organisation to discuss the issues and strategies that might be co-jointly pursued to help young offenders.
In discussing the Police Cautioning program, we raised the concept that minor penalties could be applied to juveniles with consent and agreement from the child’s parents. For example, we suggested that the juvenile’s phone be surrendered for fourteen days or report to the police station to do chores, etc.
The response was akin to threatening juvenile offenders with purgatory as they exposed their agenda.
They were clearly and stridently opposed to the Police Cautioning Program and initiatives like the Police in Schools Program. Not that they could annunciate the problems with either.
It seemed they were motivated and basing their views on some ideological zealotry.
And of greatest surprise was their absolute lack of care for the child’s welfare and the approach of no consequences for unlawful behaviour or, for that matter, any plausible result for the child’s behaviour or meaningful action that may reduce the repetition of the behaviour.
How the child’s unlawful behaviour could be corrected, or the dangers to the child mitigated with no intervention were beyond a reasoned view.
They also could not identify a circumstance where a child should be incarcerated, whether in sentencing or on Bail.
The adverse risk to the children was obvious, but that the community must accept and tolerate this behaviour was outrageous.
Whoever is promoting the lifting of the age of criminal responsibility is tarred with the same brush of ignorance.
When a young person’s lousy behaviour escalates to violence against others, a substantial intervention of consequences must be applied to the child very quickly if the behaviour is to be modified.
Failure to do this is the cause of the current escalation in overall juvenile violent crime.
Some fundamental traits in immature young people are critical to expect to achieve behavioural change.
- Time – Young people live in different time zones than adults, and as we age, we learn that an hour or a day for a mature adult, for a young person, would equate to a day or forever. This phenomenon translates into watering down dramatically the impact of the legal process on a child whose life has moved on substantially before consequences, if any, are applied.
- Consequential outcomes of actions – Children may not consider the consequences of their actions and will continue to act violently until they do.
The current example of three young people pushing an elderly man fishing off a pier, falling some 5 meters into the sea, is an example. Thankfully, the old man who couldn’t swim was rescued by onlookers.
There would have been no rational thought from the youths that the consequences may lead to the death of the man.
- Youth Bail – Excessive use of their right to Bail contributes markedly to our current problems. A youth released on bail gains bragging rights and believes they have beaten the charges. This alleged badge of honour escalates violent behaviour as associates are led to believe there will be no consequences for their violent behaviour either, so any deterrent effect on others is lost.
There must be an urgent review of the management of young offenders with an emphasis on consequences for unlawful behaviour.
That review must consider the matters we have raised and determine an efficient and appropriate system for managing young people.
The passionate argument of never incarcerating young people must be quashed as it is as essential to protect the community as it is to protect the child. Incarceration is a must if there is no viable alternative. We do not advocate incarcerating all young offenders but only when it is reasonably necessary, but all offenders must suffer some consequences.
The risks that can be argued opposing incarceration of ‘making the offender worse’ we differ ‘worse than what’. Violence in any form must be punished. Assaults, carjacking and home invasions must be stamped out.
If there are issues with the detention system, then fix the system.
The current system appears broken, but that has more to do with activists fiddling with it for ideological reasons as the system, even with some failings, has historically served us well, or indeed better than it currently does.
Fiddling with the bail laws and the age of criminal responsibility are just that, tinkering around the edges without a holistic approach that would achieve meaningful outcomes.
Curfews and tracking devices for recidivist offenders are a ‘no brainer’.
The actual legislative changes to achieve better outcomes are relatively small. Changing the mindset of key players in the youth space might be more of a challenge; however, if their function was measured against benchmarks, instilling accountability with consequences into these functions, meaningful changes might be quicker than anticipated.