OP-ED: Sad Reality of Youth within Justice System
Thursday 9 July 2020, The Examiner
I wonder how many people have heard of the Independent Person register with Tasmania Police. This is an extremely important and personally fulfilling community service that can be undertaken by the average person to assist Tasmania Police in their daily duties.
There is a daytime roster and a nighttime roster, as crime happens any time, and the average time at the station would be between 30 minutes and an hour. Obviously sometimes it is less and on occasion I have been there for a couple of hours. It all depends on the crimes and whether someone is charged and bailed to reappear.
Videoing interviews and statements, taking photographs and fingerprints etc. all time, but are essential and I couldn’t hazard a guess how many video interviews I have appeared in. I have been an independent person for over 20 years and never cease to be amazed at the young people who fall foul of the system and get themselves into strife. As an independent person the duty is to be an independent adult observer in police interviews of young people.
My understanding is that police policy requires an adult, parent or guardian present during an interview to ensure that statements are made freely without threat or coercion and that no claims can be made that the alleged offender has been treated unfairly. During my time as an independent person all the young people have been treated very well.
When attending the police station, I introduce myself to the young person as attending on their behalf, shake their hand and ask whether they have a parent or guardian that they would rather have there. Regrettably, they often say their parent couldn’t be reached, or refused to come. I am led to believe that sometimes parents or guardians have had enough and simply can’t turn up for their own wellbeing.
Being a mother, I always ask them why they allowed themselves to get into that situation and stressed they could still have a good future as nothing would appear on their record should they turn their lives around as they were under 18. Officers have said they liked the fact that I responded like a mother and I have had many repeat visits.
The youngest person I have sat with was 10 and I was called back to sit with this child, who the police told me was basically a good kid, many times. How sad it is to witness an interview when a young child of 10 has allegedly committed theft and vandalism. He used to sneak our after his mum had drunk herself to sleep and go on a spree of theft and vandalism around his suburb. He had a partner in crime who was even younger, whom I never saw as he was too young to be charged. He would be an adult now and I sincerely hope his life has turned around.
On the other end of the scale I recall sitting with a 16-year-old who was a regular Ashley attendee. This young man could have passed for much older, he was good looking, athletic, articulate and appeared to be well-educated by preferred a life of crime. He could have followed any path he wanted but he saw no problem with what he did and wasn’t prepared to change.
I recall one interview where the police were asking if this young person had set fire to the car he and his mates had stolen. He said his mates had done it by igniting their socks, but not him. I looked down and noticed his feet were bare in his shoes.
I often left the police station feeling very sorry for the young person.
I recall one girl from a difficult home who told me she had no friends outside of Ashley because other children were not allowed by their parents to have anything to do with her, so she simply reoffended to go back to what she considered a safe place where she had friends, food and a warm place to sleep. She was all of 13 and she told me she believed there was no hope for her. How sad it is that a 13 someone things there is no hope and they have no future.
You ask yourself: what can we do as a society to help young people like her from becoming another statistic. I could write a book on the young people I have sat with during these interviews and there is no particular stereotype. They can be from any background, any age, male or female.
I would recommend to anyone to consider registering for the Independent Person register. Apart from assisting Tasmania Police to get on with their daily business, it makes you truly appreciate just how lucky you are.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC