A 14-year-old who terrorised staff in two armed robberies of the same Christchurch petrol station is now being seen as a youth justice success story.
Youth Court Judge Jane McMeeken said she had to grant him early release today because he had done so well in the Te Puna Wai youth justice facility at Rolleston, south of Christchurch.
She has released him on supervision for six months, after he served part of a three-month supervision with residence sentence she imposed in August.
The boy ended up spending about five days in the police cells in June because there was no youth justice bed available for him at the time. Judge McMeeken visited him at the cells and said it was “outragous” that he was held in those facilities for so long.
She announced that he would be released on bail unless proper accommodation could be found. He was then placed in suitable accommodation.
Since then, he has been sentenced to supervision with residence for involvement two armed robberies in which the youths were disguised and armed with a claw hammer, a hockey stick, and a mallet.
Judge McMeeken said the robberies were “terrible” and the staff had been terrorised. The robbers got away with $5000 worth of tobacco and cash the first time, and $6000 worth the second time.
When she sentenced him in August she ordered that a Family Group Conference be held, but it went ahead without any members of his whanau present. Another is now planned, where the youth today told the judge he would have his grandmother, uncle, father, mother, and step-mother present.
He will travel to the North Island with a social worker to see where he will stay at a programme for people just released from youth justice. He will then return to Christchurch to stay in a community home until that place is available for him in November.
Youth advocate Colin Eason told the court that the teenager had “more than some others, earned early release – there’s been quite a transformation”.
Judge McMeeken said he had never ended up in secure care during his time in Te Puna Wai. He had been doing his NCEA studies and excelled at mathematics. His home economics teacher described him as “my current star”.
During a visit by officials, the youth and another resident had been chosen to cook for them and look after them. The youths had spoken to the guests and behaved professionally.
She said, after reading the report from Te Pun Wai: “I almost can’t believe this, you have done so well.” He had shown talent and ability.
“You have behaved well. You have immersed yourself in your Maori culture. It seems crazy that the young man I have just read about, is the young man who did these two terrible aggravated robberies.”
The youth has also been convicted of unlawfully taking cars, burglary, fleeing the police, and thefts, with his entry into the Youth Court system at age 13. Police eventually sought a care a protection order for him through the Family Court. It was a huge concern that at the age of 14 he did not have whanau who could care for him, said the judge.
She noted that a Family Group Conference had now been arranged, at a North Island centre. “I want your whanau to be involved in whatever’s happening for you in the future.”
But she also told him that he had to stop “taking stuff”, getting into cars, and breaking the law. “If anyone ever suggests doing a robbery, you have to stop.”
She saw the youth as being vulnerable – “but so is the community if you are not properly monitored and assisted”.
“The answer to the problem can’t be just to lock you up,” said the judge.
After entering the Youth Court through the door to the cells, the teenager left through the door to the Court House’s public area, accompanied by some of the social workers who will be responsible for his care in the months to come.
Judge McMeeken had told him: “I now know that you can make good decisions. I expect you to continue doing good stuff.”