There won’t be too many Australians who didn’t hear about the 11-year-old Perth boy who was recently arrested in connection with a stabbing murder at a train station.
The story shocked the country, and got a lot of people talking about just how this happened, and how the justice system should deal with young offenders.
At the moment the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is being housed at a high-security unit at Banksia Hill Detention Centre. The unit where he’s being held is in essentially solitary confinement, but he cannot be housed with the general population due to fears over his safety from friends and family of his alleged victim. So he is allowed out in the yard for around 20 minutes every day, has a soccer ball to play with, and is still waiting on a schooling plan to be developed for him by authorities.
According to family friends who have visited the boy, he is struggling with the realities of life behind bars.
“I’ve known him from a very little boy.” A unnamed family friend told The Sunday Times. “He looks a lot older than 11 at the moment… this boy is soaked with pain, with agony. His whole demeanour, his face has swelled up to the max from constant weeping, crying.”
Nothing has been proven against the boy yet, but he was charged along with three other men over the death; one aged 29-years-old and two 19-year-olds. The victim Patrick “Paddy” Slater was allegedly stabbed to death on the 27th of January at 3:30am, and the boy’s arrest in connection with his death makes him one of Australia’s youngest ever accused murderers.
A Challenging History
By all the information gathered so far, it seems like the 11-year-old has had far from an easy life. Friends of the family admitted that the youngster did have some issues before the incident, but for the most part was a “gorgeous little boy”. However, it appears that he did not attend school that often, indeed when he was arrested he was not even enrolled. He also tended to hang out with his older brothers and cousins, making many wonder what role he even played in the incident.
“I think (the boy’s family) believes that once the truth is put on the table and everyone gives their recollection of the event, this little fella could have been an innocent bystander,” said a family friend, who noted that the boy was good at making himself fit in with older crowds.
The boy’s Facebook page certainly seems to indicate that. In his photographs he is seen pretending to be much older, posing with gang signs and wads of $100 bills. But beyond the tough exterior there is a young boy who, when he was just a child, witnessed his little brother being hit and killed by a car, was evicted from his public housing home, and has experienced many of his relatives, including his brothers and father, moving in and out of the jail system.
So just how did this happen? How did a child who had experienced so much tragedy in his life, so much hardship, not have anyone there to catch him when he needed it the most?
A Broken System
All things considered, the ‘system’ in Australia is pretty good. It makes sure that most kids are kept safe, that they get an education, that they have somewhere to call home, and that they are looked after by their family, their friends, and their community.
But like any system, there are cracks. And kids can, and do, fall through these cracks.
It happens on so many levels. When family services do not know how to best handle a challenging family situation. When schools do not have the resources to chase up truancy and non-attendance. When parents aren’t watchful of their children, allowing them to wander the streets unsupervised and uncontrolled.
It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s also everybody’s fault.
The alleged crimes of this boy reflect badly on everyone in Australia, because they show there are still cracks that kids fall through, places that aren’t providing enough security to the children who are supposed to be Australia’s next generation, our future hopes.
What To Do With Young Offenders
At the end of the day though, this can’t just be a passive discussion about children slipping through the cracks in our system. The real question here is about what we will do with the boy, and with other young offenders who break the law, sometimes without fully understanding it.
Hard-line justice supporters claim that jail time, and juvenile sentencing, are the answers. However there are yet to be any conclusive studies about whether children who serve time in juvenile facilities are more likely to be rehabilitated, or to reoffend. At the other end of the spectrum are those that argue children who cannot even give consent cannot be properly tried for their crimes, which under the law’s eyes they cannot be fully conscious of. Both have valid points, and both want to work in the best interest of our society in the long run. But neither provide a scenario that works all the time, or for all the people.