Hard time may be the only deterrent for young offenders
Last weekend my heart sank as I watched the 60 minutes investigation into the horrific UK murder in 1993 of 2-year-old James Bulger.
The vicious murder of the toddler by Robert Thompson and Jon Venables is regarded as one of the most violent crimes of Britain’s modern history, particularly because the boys who committed it, were themselves only kids at 10 years of age. This story always leaves me deeply saddened and sickened to my stomach every time I hear about it – not just as a father, but as a human being. The fact that two young boys could be so calculated, violent and evil is hard to comprehend.
When you hear about terrible things like this, the last thing you expect is to discover is that they were carried out by children themselves. It’s terrifying. What’s equally hard to comprehend is the sentence they received – 8 years of detention and rehabilitation. Is that a suitable punishment?
At the time, the public were outraged, many claiming the sentence was too lenient and that rehabilitation was a waste of time. “Lock them up and throw away the key”, was the catchcry. There was further outrage when it was later discovered that the boys won a court battle to receive new identities as soon as they’d turned 18, which was the same time they were allowed back into society.
This year marks the 17th anniversary of little James’s death but the case is far from closed. Last week it was revealed Jon Venables, now 27, has violated parole and faces potential jail time on child pornography charges. This is outrageous and makes a mockery of the whole process.
It makes me question: what was the rehabilitation?
Is there really any such thing as rehabilitation and if so, how can you be 100% certain that it’s effective?
Some claim that irrespective of an individuals up-bringing and personal circumstances, there are those that are innately prone to violence and harm; it’s inherent to who they are. The real question is should the justice system be more strict with youth offenders?
I remember when I was growing up I used to hear people say that it didn’t matter what you did wrong, if you were under the age of 16 you’d never go to jail. Instead, you’d be sent off to a juvenile detention centre. Among the “bad boys” in town, that never frightened them and the thought of time in “juvy” was not enough to deter their actions. Is that still the case now?
I would imagine that there are very few adults out there who could claim that jail time wouldn’t scare them and it makes me wonder should youth have something similar to be frightened about – a fate behind bars – to avoid?
This week The Manly Daily reported a gang of 15 youths dressed in black, wearing caps and beanies invaded and robbed an Elanora Heights IGA store in plain sight of the security cameras. Many laughed directly into them. Clearly those youths aren’t worried about the consequences of their actions. They’re committing crime for kicks without a care in the world. What happens in these cases when police catch the culprits? It would seem that juvenile detention isn’t an effective threat.
We heard earlier this year about the wheelchair bound Canadian who was viciously assaulted by two boys aged 15 and 16, the 15 year old was out on bail at the time and had a history of violence. What’s going to happen to these two kids now, how long before they’re back on the streets doing similar violent attacks?
Our schools are making headlines too. Ministers regularly state schools are probably the safest places for kids, which I don’t doubt, but we can’t overlook the fact that violent assaults at schools have increased in the past five years. I was shocked recently to read that police in Penrith were investigating an incident where a 9-year-old boy threatened a classmate with a knife. What drives a 9 year old to do something like that?
If kids are starting so young, what does the future hold? In such an environment it’s no wonder parents are criticised for “helicopter parenting” or being overly protective.
Kids are exposed to far too much violence and crime from a young age; on the internet, on handheld games, in movies and even among young celebrities. Lindsay Lohan was sentenced this week to 90 days in jail for repeated violation of her probation; three years too late, since her crimes stem back to arrests in 2007.
The system failed here, she was allowed to re-offend a number of times before finally being punished. What a joke – whatever happened to the saying, “only do the crime if you can do the time”?
As a parent it’s hard not to worry about what our children will be exposed to in the years ahead. Kids are bringing knives to school, not only as a weapon but as protection. I don’t want to one day discover that my kids are worried about their safety, that they feel the need to carry something for protection. I don’t want them to fall into the wrong type of company and end up going down a desperate path.
The message out there should be loud and clear, there will be consequences to your actions. The last thing we want in Australia is a case like Jon Venables – he committed a horrendous crime 17 years ago, was ‘rehabilitated’ and now is up on charges again. It’s a sickening thought.
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