We are told that an 11 year old boy has been refused bail after being charged with lighting a bushfire.
More recently a 14 year old boy has apparently been granted bail after being charged with lighting a bushfire.
In New South Wales there is a presumption that a child under 10 cannot be criminally liable. Between 10 and 14 years of age, there is a rebuttable presumption (essentially meaning that evidence can be produced to show the child understood his criminal action so that s/he can be charged).
In all cases, a very real question exists about the utility of having an 11 year old child in custody.
If it is the case that this child has a long history before the courts (and we’re not saying that is the case at all), then the question isn’t, “what else can we do?” but rather, “why then has the system failed so miserably. 11 years on the planet isn’t a very long time to get your act in order, especially if one factors in that it was only a few years ago you were learning to crawl, then walk and talk, oh and toilet train.
The reality is that if a child as young as 11 is being locked up, it is hard to miss a sense of irrationality to the system. Things are going seriously wrong if between DOCS, Juvenile Justice, the Courts, the Police, the Department of Education and everything in between, an 11 year old sits in gaol while a 14 year old gets bail.
We should be asking some serious questions today, about why kids light fires, what sort of problems exist and how it is that we deal with them. It is exactly times like this, when we are under the pressure and strain of the horrors of people losing their homes and possibly even their lives, that we ought consider precisely how we as a community respond. As parts of our family of citizens begin rebuilding their lives, lets help by ensuring the society we rebuild is better.