For some, punishing young offenders is not enough – parents should be forced to take responsibility too. Photo / NZME
If you read the comments on any story about youth crime or ram raids, one solution keeps coming up: punishing parents for the illegal acts of their children.
For example, charging them or making
they pay for damage caused by their kids.
And why not? Companies and bosses can be held responsible for the misdeeds of their employees. Dog owners can be held responsible if their animal bites someone.
We can all accept that children and teenagers will make mistakes, and while we might hope they understand they have done wrong, they may not have the maturity to understand the gravity of harm they are causing.
But the grown adult parents and caregivers who are willfully or neglectfully turning a blind eye to the misdeeds their charges are up to when out of the house late at night? We would like to think that society can hold them to a higher standard of responsibility.
Whakatāne Senior Sergeant Al Fenwick says society has “dropped the ball” when it comes to supervision.
“You ask the question, why don’t you know where your intermediate or early high school-aged kids are at one o’clock at night?
“If you knew where your kids were, they wouldn’t be out stealing cars and wrecking people’s livelihoods,” he told the Whakatane Beacon.
Oranga Tamariki told RNZ in April that 80 percent of youth criminals he dealt with came from a home environment with family violence and 90 percent have learning difficulties. Almost all are not at school. Those are factors communities can try to address.
But the impact of youth crime on victims is not diminished because the offenders are having a hard time at home.
Owners of ram-raided businesses in the Bay of Plenty told NZME this week they were left with trauma and debts after being targeted, some multiple times.
Store owner Saed Rajput sleeps every night with an iPad next to his bed playing security camera footage of his storefront. Those who raided it in April have not been caught, despite appearing to be videoing themselves committing the crime.
An academic expert says ram raids epitomized “high-octane behavior” that was glamorized through footage posted on social media, creating a “social contagion” effect that could draw youths in.
The idea of offenders who treat their crimes so lightly as to brazenly promote them, potentially creating more criminals in the process, is galling.
It’s hard to imagine how to truly get them to understand how wrong their actions are and set them on a better path just by punishing them.
But given the circumstances of so many of these trouble-making kids, does anyone really think that heaping harsh consequences and financial penalties on their families will improve their circumstances and change their ways?
Parents already have a role in the youth justice system in New Zealand. They may be asked to participate at various levels, including family group conferences.
This involves coming up with ways for young offenders to make up for what they have done, according to the Youth Law.
“This could include an apology, paying money to the victim, working for the victim or the community, a donation to charity, a curfew, counseling, training programs and more. Solutions can be creative.”
Parents should be held responsible when their children act up so egregiously as to cause serious and lasting harm to others.
But it’s not as simple as chucking caregivers in prison or hitting them with fines or damage costs they likely won’t be able to pay.
Creative solutions are needed.