A judge has ordered the immediate release of an 18-year-old held in solitary detention in the Christchurch Police Station cells for seven days.
Judge Robert Murfitt said today he believed the continuing detention of the teenager by himself in the police cells was breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The judge took rapid measures to get the youth released when all efforts failed to find him somewhere to go while remanded on bail.
He stood the case down for three hours and had inquiries made to see if he could stay with family, but an aunt could not be reached, and the youth’s mother was asked if he could stay with her on a “supported bail arrangement”.
The mother did not arrive at court for the later sitting, and the judge said he was not willing to continue holding the youth in custody any longer.
The serious offending – a sexual violation by rape – that brought the teenager into the Youth Court in the first place, had taken place two years ago. Since then, there had been nothing to indicate he posed a risk to public safety.
“I’m very concerned about the risk to your own safety and the obligation of the court to comply with the United Nations convention,” he said, releasing the youth on bail with a condition that he report twice a week to his social worker, or at other times as directed.
The youth will have to return to the Youth Court on March 23.
There are no beds available for the teenager in the youth justice facility at Te Puna Wai, south of Christchurch, and no address for him in the community.
The police were opposed to him remaining in the cells at the central police station any longer. The senior constable at today’s Youth Court sitting told Judge Robert Murfitt: “From the police perspective, this is not satisfactory – seven days in the cells and it’s not a hotel.”
The youth faced the prospect of a second weekend locked alone in a cell unless a place could be found for him.
When he saw the youth at a remand appearance three days ago, Judge Murfitt heard that he had been confined to the cell, without any books, music, pens, or paper.
When the judge asked the youth whether anything had changed today, he replied that he had been given a book by his mother. He had been reading “Divergent”, a futuristic thriller in which a young woman joins a revolt against a cruel, authoritarian government.
Youth advocate Colin Easton said there were still no beds available for the youth.
Judge Murfitt said: “The court, as an agency of the State, has an obligation to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The solitary detention of a young man like [suppressed] in the police cells for such an extended period of time is totally unacceptable and does not comply with the State’s obligations under that convention.
“The police today also oppose any further remand in custody.
“New Zealand’s history of youth suicide is a lamentable one and it is important that he not be left with a sense of abject hopelessness that might make him vulnerable. I am not prepared to continue his remand in custody in the police cells.”
He stood the case down for the social welfare authorities to check whether he could be placed with an aunt. The youth told the judge: “She told me to get in touch with her if I got in trouble again. She said she wanted to try to help me, and look after me.” The officials were unable to reach her.
The youth is now 18, but he offended when he was 16 and in the Youth Court jurisdiction. He committed a rape, which he admitted in the Youth Court, as well as some other relatively minor charges. His case remains in the Youth Court.
He has been under a therapeutic plan and regular Youth Court Judge Jane McMeeken has been taking a continuing interest in the case and judicially monitoring his rehabilitation.
Judge Murfitt said the youth was from a troubled family. His father is a sentenced prisoner and his mother had been a drug addict, though she is now “clean”.
The youth had been breaching his bail conditions and failing to comply with his obligations to attend his courses.
“His mother has thrown up her hands in dismay and has withdrawn her consent to have him stay at home,” said the judge.
Because no other places were available, he had ended up in the police cells last weekend.