‘The only values that the current judicial process teaches our children are; truth is irrelevant, and responsibility is someone else’s concern.’
Lawlessness is far more than the breaking of certain laws. Lawlessness describes a situation when people wilfully and deliberately act in defiance of all law and the authority that the law represents. Increasingly we have young people who fit that description.
This attitude is virulent and corrodes the strength of a community; if unaddressed it spreads. I visit homes that have been violated and listen to ordinary people who are becoming extraordinarily troubled about where this is headed.
One thing is certain; we cannot keep doing the same thing and vainly hope for different results. A recent 53% increase in break-ins in Palmerston indicate the current approach is not working.
Senior police in our small city of Palmerston refer to a core group of about 30 hardened young repeat offenders in the city. This core group influences a broader group of over 100 that is growing rapidly. This dynamic is the same in other centres.
If measures to effectively address those at the core are not found, then this problem will get out of hand and that doesn’t just mean more crime but something far worse. That is when law-abiding citizens lose hope in government and faith in the systems funded to protect our community. This gives rise to a new level of lawlessness; vigilantism.
Building trust in government is not helped when a dominant Labor Government skilfully avoids strong scrutiny by funding an opposition of two to perform that task and then focuses way too much attention to the previous government instead of dealing with the growing crisis unfolding before us.
For now, we are fortunate that the angry chatter of keyboard warriors venting vigilantism is largely contained to cyber space but those on the ground say it is becoming harder to hold the line.
The number who choose to turn up to community gatherings and offer support for a proactive and positive response to crime at the neighbourhood level is encouraging but they like our hard-working police officers need a new strategy, they need hope.
Most families in our community are hard-working, respect the law and make noble efforts to raise their kids to do the same. They need support. What does could that new strategy look like?
What follows is informed by personal experience as a parent, school principal and local member, conversations with police officers, families close to the young offenders and deeply concerned members of our community.
When it dealing with young offenders what is the problem with the judicial system and what can be done to fix it?
A young offender has little respect for authority. If a young person has zero respect for their parents, it is foolish to think they will have respect for any other adult.
The judicial system too easily exempts the offender from accepting personal responsibility. When it was first reported that certain young offenders who damaged several cars in the local carpark were known to the police and the ringleader had been brought to their attention about 150 times many thought this an exaggeration but shockingly it isn’t.
A senior officer working explained how this works.
At the first level of interactions with police a young person is submitted to multiple warnings over 12 to 18 months. If the offending behaviours continue then the young person enters the Youth Diversion process; a further system of warnings and cautionary programmes. This can extend for a further 12 to 18 months.
So, it is possible that after three years of creating grief and at great cost to everyone the worse the ‘offender’ comes to expect are repeated warnings.
If offending continues then the young person may finally face court where for the first time they are held to account.
But that is not the end of this disturbing story; enter the defence lawyer.
Our legal system requires a defence advocate. The nature of defence is to strongly advise the offender to NOT to speak to police. This can easily be interpreted as ‘Don’t tell the truth and don’t admit responsibility.
A respected senior police officer summed this up by saying:
‘The only values that the current judicial process teaches our children are; that truth is irrelevant, and responsibility is someone else’s concern.’
This is the system that is hardening young offenders and is corroding the core strength of our community. A new strategy is needed.
So, what could that look like?
We need to establish a Youth Court which is a single entity and based in the community.
Juveniles who have committed offences, regardless of severity need to come before a youth court at the first instance of offending. Any diversionary or cautionary process needs to be decided by that one institution and be supported by the community
The community context of law administration for young offenders is important as it provides a greater chance to show that the truth is relevant, and responsibility is something and the offender, with help, must bear.
That help is sourced from within a community not the judicial system.
A Community based youth court is step one and future articles will describe what flows from that.