A COMMUNITY approach is needed in Orange to support young offenders who have come from tragic family environments, according to Magistrate Michael Allen.
In his role as a relieving magistrate in Orange, Mr Allen has seen many cases of young people with nowhere to turn; caught up in a life of crime because they have no option.
He says he and fellow magistrates are engaged in a balancing act - meeting community expectations for firmness while supporting young offenders through rehabilitation programs, so they can be integrated into the community.
Homelessness, violence and drug and alcohol addicted parents are all part of the lives of many young people who come before the courts.
“I think if the average person were to sit in court for a day they would be shocked or at least very moved by some of the sad stories of these young people,” he said.
Mr Allen has completed his last sitting as relieving magistrate in Orange before taking up his new position in Bathurst.
He said rehabilitation for young people was a major challenge for judicial officers, due to the scarcity of programs for young offenders in rural areas.
“Some of these young people are fundamentally good kids who make mistakes, but haven’t come from a background that has given then any kind of support or encouragement, and many of them are illiterate,” Mr Allen said.
Often they appear in court on their own with no family member or role model for support.
While many agencies and welfare organisations are doing their best to help, Mr Allen said young people were falling through the cracks, finding themselves in custody because there was no other option for their care.
“But we simply can’t close the door on a child,” he said.
“Integrating them into the community is imperative and simply punishing them is a simplistic approach.”
Mr Allen believes the police share a similar view.
“They don’t want to see young people turn into adult offenders,” he said.
He says the solutions are complex and require a coordinated community effort to change the outlook for young people whose lives are dysfunctional and chaotic.
“It takes commitment from all sorts of sectors,” he said.