Are we raising a generation of criminals?

When I wrote in my very first blogpost that our would-be criminals seemed to be getting stupider and stupider by the day, I forgot to add one thing: they are also becoming younger and younger. Used to be a time where the presence of anyone under the age of twenty-five at the law courts was a bit of an oddity, the age being a headliner in itself.
Not so now. Teenagers in court have a boringly regular presence on the media. It’s almost like if they are not busy getting themselves “corrupted” by an older boy/girlfriend they are equally busy getting a good grounding into the art of spending a life-time hopping in and out of magistrates’ courts. In the past weeks we’ve had fifteen-year-olds stealing their aunt’s jewellery to fund their boyfriend’s lifestyle, youngsters making a habit of stealing Ford Fiestas for drunken joyrides, another fifteen-year-old stealing rims from car wheels, twenty-year-olds getting involved in bar-room brawls, seventeen-year-olds embarking determinedly on the world’s oldest profession (no, not that of lawyer, though I haven’t yet decided which profession is worse) and and still more sixteen-year-olds behaving for all the world like they are mini-mafia dons, dealing in shotguns and organised theft while their mother weeps near the dock.
In reality none of this is all that remarkable, well maybe except for the very last case. The kid sounds like he could do with a good kick in the butt while his mother should be ashamed of herself for not delivering it. What is remarkable, on the other hand, is the way these “novice” criminals are being dealt with. The best thing our legal system can come up with, it would appear, is one of these three options:
1. A suspended sentence or probation, which successfully delivers the message that hey, I’ve gotten away with it. Let’s see if I can do worse next time. Please don’t bother boring me with the legal niceties of why, in fact, both options carry with them severe censure. In the mind of a happy-go-lucky twenty-year-old, they don’t.
2. A stint at that bastion of civilized living we call Corradino. You know, the same place where you go in clean-ish and re-emerge into society hooked on crystal-meth.
3.A slap of the wrist and a stern don’t do that again or Big Daddy will punish you. Yes, that will really work.
And what do you know? Hit me with a blowfish but none of these three options ever seem to work. Mystifying indeed, as evidenced by those esteemed fellas sitting on the bench and by the legions of desperate parents who themselves could do with a good slap on the wrist for what can only be described as atrocious parenting.
Then you get the (I suspect intentionally) hilarious statements made by some defence lawyers. Prize for the ironic statement of the week goes to the lawyer of the would-be mini-mafia don, who wound up with his second prison sentence in under a year. “I hope the Corradino correctional facility lives up to its name now it’s faced with such a young inmate,” the lawyer told the bench, delivered with what I’m sure was a totally deadpan expression. Right.
Given the shocking amount of young relapsers I would say it’s pretty evident that the present system of fobbing them off with a suspended sentence and then, when all else fails, throwing them in jail for a few months isn’t leaving the hoped for results. Well, not if what we are hoping for is the turning over a new leaf, anyway. If, on the other hand we are hoping for a brand new generation of spoilt brats who think that can run amok with impunity, well then yes we’re doing very well indeed. Yay us.
The ultimate stamp of failure to the present legal system was made some weeks ago when yet another teenager was hauled in front of the court for another string of offences. Far from being abashed or in any way scared of potential consequences, the cocky bugger proudly informed the police that he was really looking forward to being back on the streets to create more hassle for them. I’ll confess this one made me smile. You can’t help but laugh indulgently at the brash bravado of the young. But of course, the young grow up into hardened, even more embittered  and unscrupulous adults. So in reality it is no laughing matter.
Which leaves us with what? A dire need for a good re-haul in the way we operate when the future of the next generation is at stake, that’s what. It is obvious to everyone but to those in charge that sending a sixteen-year-old to share a cell with a bunch of hardened criminals is only going to lead to further grief. It is equally obvious that letting the brats off with a reprimand won’t achieve much either. Whatever happened to the good, old system where youngsters are given community service? Make them clean up a couple of public toilets and we’ll see how keen they are to go on a joy-ride next time they are tempted to nick a car.

Or how about making sure parents go back to doing their job and making them responsible when their underage kids go on the rampage?  The relevant provisions are there somewhere in the law, so use them. Make the parents put their hands in their pockets to make good for any damage done and I guarantee that good, old-fashioned discipline will be back in vogue before you can say “suspended sentence”.
And maybe then our law courts can concentrate on the real criminals.

This post was published on The Times of Malta.

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