A meaningful response to those guilty of committing a crime either juvenile or adult must contain two elements:
Consequence and rehabilitation.
It cannot be consequence nor rehabilitation alone but robust balanced measures of both.
Not hard or soft but both hard and soft.
A hard response because we care about the standards that underpin our society and a soft response because you care about the individual and want to help reconnect that person positively to their community.
Any effective punishment of course must be appropriate to the crime and not designed to humiliate. The intent of any punishment should be to deliver a meaningful response proportionate to the offence and require where possible recompense, apology and repair of the damage to community.
Punishment is justice being seen to be done and by being seen to be done common community values are reinforced. We should resist any judicial response that creates uncertainty in the mind of a child or an adult that stealing, destruction of public property or the wilful injuring of another member of our community is anything else but wrong.
Punishment marks the boundaries that guide the framing of a cohesive society, this boundary defines the standards that we value and aspire to as a society and individuals.
A punitive response to a breach signals to the individual in breach that they have fallen short but should also say that they are capable of better choices. A rehabilitative response is designed to enable them to reach for that standard.
The reality is that people make choices and choices have consequences. By diminishing a punitive approach and emphasising instead the ‘special circumstances’ that caused an offender to offend feeds the idea of ‘victimhood’. By not affirming the truth that every person is endowed with the dignity of will and capacity the socially and personally damaging choices are validated and personal responsibility explained away. Worse the offenders’ dignity is denied by saying they are powerless to choose otherwise and someone else is to blame.
This approach carries the deceptive and dangerous implication that crime is a societal disease rather than a breach of a moral code; consequently a offender is treated with therapy not punishment.
Once the idea of ‘victimhood’ is introduced the socially damaging actions of an individual are excused leaving the community to clean up the mess and foot the bill while a hand is extended to the offender.
In this scenario right and wrong, good and bad become subjective values rather than objective standards. Consequentially moral bearings are lost and children and families are confused.
Now we can have a person stab or try to run over a policemen or commit over 50 serious offences and the backstory of the offender becomes the main story rather than the serious breach to community standards and the harm inflicted on victims.
Recasting the offender as a victim harms the offender by supporting the idea that because they can’t be held responsible for their actions they are somehow incapable of free choice, their humanity is diminished and consigned to a lesser existence as a powerless victim of society.
For those who believe that strong punishment alone fixes the problem risk damaging an already damaged individual and likely create a greater problem
Those who argue the offender should be treated lightly or absolved of personal responsibility and responsibility for the crime transferred instead to society for creating the problem devalue both the individual and the society they live in.
Yes an offender may have his or her judgment impaired at the time, may have had a very difficult family life or some other condition but deny them an encounter with reality by holding them accountable inflicts further harm on both.
Those who care must come together and work to deliver a tough love response to young offenders.
We need to respond wisely and courageously because every indication is that it is likely to get worse unless we redefine the boundaries to guide our families and communities.
A sound judicial and correction system must aim to both defend community standards and repair the damage to individuals, offenders and victims.