Posted on Feb 29, 2012
It was my first time at such a conference, not being an habitué of any part of the justice system, so I left the suit at home, not wanting to appear too overdressed in such a situation. As it turned out, others were obviously concerned that they too were not overdressed and intimidating. The CYFS meeting co-ordinator turned up in a T shirt and shorts. Perhaps CYFS was having a teambuilding exercise at the beach, and he was just returning from that. The first offender also was not overly concerned with formality. He just wore a singlet.
It turned out that I was not the only victim. One of the offenders had so many offences it took the police about 20 minutes to read them all out. He admitted to almost all. I guess with so many it was understandable that he couldn't remember some.
In essence the conference is something of a second chance. IF these loser kids can show some remorse, and demonstrate what they are doing to get their lives back on track then effectively their slate is wiped clean. No conviction. No record.
So next year one of these kids could apply for a job in your factory, having admitted to 18 crimes, yet honestly say he had no police record. Of course, as a participant in the family conference, I cannot tell you his identity. Keep in mind that these kids are not the brightest products of our education system. They flogged stuff (mainly by breaking into cars - my beach house was something of an exception), then turned it into cash by selling to second hand dealers. Now second hand dealers under the law have to record details of every person they buy goods from. But some dealers take that even further. They photograph everyone they buy goods from. So when police did their checks of second hand shops, and find stolen goods, it was a simple trail to apprehend our somewhat simple offenders. As an aside, our TV didn't go to a second hand dealer. It was traded to another kind of dealer for 10 tabs of ecstasy.
But back to the family conference. The CYFS beach guy gets everybody to introduce themselves (I am a "victim") then explains we are attending to hear from the offender as to why he did it, and what he has done in the ensuing three months to change his life, what punishment should be meted out, and what retribution is appropriate. Then the police read the charge sheet and the offender admits to the charges. Then we get to the interesting part. The offender reads out an apology which has obviously been prepared by someone else, and is patently insincere.
How the process normally goes from here I don't know, as at this point I am thinking that I am on stage in a classic English theatrical farce. As I am the only victim in attendance (I can only presume the other 17 are hard at work paying their taxes so CYFS can pay for this) I feel a responsibility to search for some real answers. What is done is done. The kid says he was lead astray. So what has he done in the three months since he participated in this crime wave to change things? He still associates with the same group of young losers. Yes. He still takes the same drugs. Well - not all of them! Has he tried to change his life direction? No - not really. Is he prepared to make any monetary restitution for the victim's losses? No.
At this stage I am starting to wonder why we have a professional theatre. If this was not tragic it would be far more amusing than any comedy club. But just to liven things up the mother of the juvenile rat bag decides to protest vociferously that it was not "fair" that the police had failed to inform her of some minor procedural point. Having had enough of their surly son and her attitude, I decided that some enlightenment was called for, and proceeded to calmly explain that I would be very pleased to explain in detail and at length the meaning of fairness in relation to her son's offending, and the impact it had on a community as he and his mates embarked on their crime wave. This of course had the immediate effect of relieving the tension. Or perhaps she realised she was just making things worse for junior.
So beach boy called an intermission for the family to have a private chat, and see if they could come up with an acceptable plan. It must have been that we were closer to the road to Damascus than I realised, as when we re-convened the family had a plan which involved community service, some minor restitution, non-association with the other offenders, a curfew, involvement in sport, etc.
Whether it all happens we will see. But it was a fascinating insight into how a part of our justice system works. And by association, why we get so little value from the bloated public service. But the even greater worry is the inbuilt culture of entitlement which seems to pervade so much of our society.