Juvenile sentencing options cuts

THE state government is neglecting its most vulnerable and troubled citizens by cutting juvenile drug rehabilitation programs and other sentencing options in NSW children’s courts, experts say.

Instead of expanding the Sydney-based juvenile drug court to the Hunter, the government disbanded the program earlier this year while sources at Broadmeadow Children’s Court have noticed a spike in violent offences – especially robberies and crimes with knives – committed by drug-addicted teenagers.

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The government has also cut weekend community service in the Hunter meaning that some magistrates, who may want a teenager to stay in school, can only sentence offenders to bonds or imprisonment.

Newcastle Bar Association president Peter Harper said that rather than limiting sentencing options for children’s court magistrates, the government should be expanding them and ensuring that such programs were adequately resourced.

‘‘These are some of our most troubled and neglected young people in the community,’’ he said.

‘‘We should be providing them with every opportunity to rehabilitate and educate themselves before they reach adulthood.

‘‘Children’s court magistrates are meant to focus on the offender’s rehabilitation rather than other considerations such as punishment, but they can only do that when equipped with effective, properly resourced sentencing options.’’

The cutbacks come just eight months after Broadmeadow Children’s Court magistrate Bruce Williams called for the establishment of a juvenile drug court in the Hunter.

He was sentencing the juvenile who stole Nathan Tinkler’s Ferrari.

The offender started using cannabis at the age of eight, the drug ice at 15 and is now 18 and before the adult courts for similar offences.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General said the Sydney-based juvenile drug court was disbanded because it ‘‘was costing taxpayers $4million a year and could not be properly evaluated because it was only producing an average of 17 graduates per year’’.

‘‘We need to spend taxpayers’ money wisely on programs that are proven to be effective,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘Participants will immediately be directed to other drug and alcohol treatment services.’’

Those services are either inundated or do not exist in the Hunter.

While drug-addicted adult offenders can take part in the local court rehabilitation program called MERIT or the Hunter Drug Court at Toronto or be admitted to rehabilitation centres, options for Hunter juveniles are limited.

A number of sources the Herald spoke to said children’s courts magistrates in the Hunter had effectively been left with good behaviour bonds or imprisonment as their only sentencing options.

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