Poverty blamed as regional police lock-up filled with children after alleged crime spree

Poverty blamed as regional police lock-up filled with children after alleged crime spree

A 13-year-old boy previously found to have been left unsupervised for weeks is among a group of children taken into custody over an alleged crime spree in Western Australia’s Midwest.

A former state MP said generations of government policy were to blame after the police lock-up in Geraldton was filled with children at the weekend. 

Seven children, the youngest aged 12, spent a night in police custody after a range of offences were allegedly committed over the course of the weekend.

Police alleged one of the children was among a group that broke into a retirement village in the early hours of Saturday morning and searched for things to steal. 

Other children are facing allegations relating to three cars that were stolen over the weekend, with some of them filming joy rides on social media platform Snapchat.

Seven of the children faced the Geraldton Children’s Court on Tuesday and all were granted bail with strict curfews and conditions not to associate with their co-accused. 

A further three juveniles were charged by summons to appear in court at a later date. 

During proceedings, Magistrate Kelly Thompson noted that due to their young ages, most of the children were likely to be sentenced to community-based orders if convicted, rather than time in detention. 

Several of the children were already on bail for previous charges and some were on Intensive Youth Supervision Orders.

The effectiveness of juvenile justice in the region has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, with a lack of staff preventing court-ordered community-based work from going ahead. 

Carol Martin OAM says locking children up is not the answer.(ABC News: Ashleigh Davis)

Poverty an underlying issue

Geraldton social worker and former state MP Carol Martin OAM said she was worried for the children who spent the night in custody. 

“I’m a mum and a grandmother and kids in a lock-up is a horrible thing,” she said. 

“Locking kids up … to me, it doesn’t work and I feel horrified these little kids are in the lock-up.”

The Yamatji Noongar woman said alleviating poverty was the key to resolving youth crime. 

“I don’t think [the government has] the capacity to actually look at innovative ways of dealing with poverty,” she said.

“Instead they put a label on it, and try and deal with it as a separate entity from the rest of the situation in our community.

“If we deal with that [poverty] and we deal with the destruction of family that came from the last five generations of government policy … if we start trying to fix all of those woes from the past, maybe … we can salvage something for these kids. 

“We can all blame the victims, but nothing will change until we change the way we deal with it. Locking people up doesn’t fix it.”

Boy in court last month

The group of children who faced court included a 13-year-old boy who was arrested last month after he was left unsupervised for weeks.

Four weeks ago, the ABC reported the 13-year-old boy’s family could not be contacted for a previous court appearance. 

At the time, Geraldton Magistrate Matthew Walton expressed his frustration at the child’s situation, describing it as a lack of parental responsibility, and concern about when the boy had last eaten.

The boy’s bail release form was signed by a Youth Justice officer as police could not find a guardian for him. 

In a subsequent appearance, the court was told the boy’s mother was in Perth for medical reasons and had left him in the care of a family member who had left the boy in a house with no adult present for some weeks. 

During yesterday’s proceedings, the boy’s lawyer said the mother was being proactive in arranging to get him out of Geraldton and “out of trouble”.

Arrangements were being made for him to fly to Perth to be with her as soon as possible. 

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