Mothballing of a wing at Christchurch’s youth justice facility has led a judge to accuse the Government of breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Judge Robert Murfitt made his accusation after a Youth Court sitting in Christchurch today where he remanded a 15-year-old boy in custody in the police cells for a sixth day because there is nowhere else to put him.
Judge Murfitt said: “He is held in solitary confinement. He has no company. He has no books. He has no paper. Apart from exercises he might do in the confined space of his cell he has no exercise activities. In my view, this situation is in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
He said the boy was before the Youth Court for committing several offences, including offending on bail.
His age, personality, and background meant he did not have the self-discipline to comply with his bail conditions, and it was necessary to remand him in custody.
“The situation is extraordinarily unsatisfactory,” said the judge. “The whole thrust of the youth justice system is to avoid the detention of youth offenders in police custody except if there is a critical emergency situation. It is the responsibility of the state to provide for safe, humane detention of youth offenders where the grant of bail is not suitable.”
Officials were awaiting a placement with a family. That was now being explored but seemed to be taking a long time. The boy was not only a youth offender, but because of the circumstances of his upbringing he was also in the custody and guardianship of the state.
The same state had the responsibility to provide for safe, secure, humane detention of youth offenders.
“In Christchurch there is a facility at Te Puna Wai. There is an entire wing of that facility which is vacant and has been in effect mothballed by the Ministry.”
Despite this, there was a nationwide shortage of beds for the detention of youths such as this boy. Another facility was not suitable because of the personalities and the “contagious environment” it would have for the boy.
For the safety of the boy and the public, it was not practical to grant bail because he would inevitably end up in further trouble and his situation would be worse. He “regretfully” remanded the boy in police custody for another 24 hours pending a placement.
He said he was making his comments public because it was a matter of significant public interest.