A 14-year-old Central Queensland boy with no criminal history spent more than five months in detention after being exposed to “pro-criminal friends and family” who encouraged him to commit crimes and take illicit drugs over a 12-month period.
The Gladstone Childrens Court was told last year the boy, identifiable only as RSS, spent 157 days in custody in relation to 17 criminal offences – including three violent assaults while in company or armed with others – between 11 February 2021 and 3 March 2022.
It was also revealed RSS had no criminal history prior to his offending – however, was held in custody for a lengthy period pending sentence.
Lawyers for RSS told the court the offending mostly occurred when the boy was in the company of “offending peers” and during one occasion when he had been awake for “eights days straight because he was on drugs”.
Details of RSS’s case were revealed during an application for a review of the sentence imposed by a magistrate before a Childrens Court judge in Gladstone on 15 September 2022.
On 22 June 2022, a magistrate sentenced RSS to six-months’ probation and a restorative justice order for all 17 offences.
Lawyers for RSS, who actually turned 16 this week (18 January 2023), argued the boy had spent a significant period of time in detention – mostly when he was 14-years of age — for an extraordinarily long period before actually being sentenced.
Judge Dearden, in a decision published this week (Wednesday 18 January), said RSS had been convicted and sentenced on five counts of entering and one of attempting to enter a house and committing an indictable offence, three of assault causing bodily harm in company or while armed, as well as wilful damage and stealing.
“The child’s lawyer explained the offending only by reason of the child’s association with offending peers and the consumption of illicit substances, including that at the time of (some) offending … the child had been up for eight days straight because he was on drugs,” Judge Dearden said.
“(RSS’s) offending began when he moved to Gladstone, and the pro-criminal friends and family members appeared to have been the influences on his criminal offending, as well as his pro-criminal attitude and his exposure to those anti-social family and peers, and had been using methylamphetamine and cannabis while offending, which impacted the child’s decision-making ability and impulse control.
“The child was only able to reflect at a basic level on the impacts of his behaviour, lacked an appropriate level of remorse and understanding of his behaviours, and demonstrated a minimal ability to empathise with victims.”
At the time of sentence, RSS was residing at a child safety approved residential placement with 24-hour youth worker support and supervision, had been attending high school but was suspended due to the matters proceeding through court.
RSS was also seeking to enrol in an alternative education facility and was engaged with forensic child and youth mental health services – voicing his willingness to comply with all community-based orders including restorative justice.
A pre-sentence report prepared for the court highlighted that RSS had been the subject to a long-term guardianship order with the Department of Child Safety; had previously been on a long-term foster placement but had lost both foster parents in close succession (having passed away) which resulted in the child and his siblings being separated in different care arrangements.
The Director of Public of Prosecutions argued against interfering with the magistrate’s sentence on the basis of the severe nature of RSS’s crimes.
“(The DPP) correctly identifies the very serious nature of the offending including three offences involving unprovoked violence against victims, the stealing of jewellery in excess of $20,000 … and identifies also the escalation of (RSS’s) offending … and was subject to bail when five of the offences were committed,” Judge Dearden said.
“I accept that there are matters which are arguable on both sides of this application. It is clear in my view that the learned magistrate has failed to appropriately consider the restorative justice referral, has had inadmissible material placed before him.
“And although noting the period of 157 days in pre-sentence custody, (the magistrate) has failed to give appropriate effect to that in the penalty imposed at the sentence.
“In my view … it is appropriate to grant the application to set aside the sentence imposed and to proceed by way of a restorative justice process.”
Judge Dearden, as part of his orders, set aside the six-month probation order.
Read the decision.