'Pro-criminal' teen who began abusing substances at 8 fighting court order to send him to boys' home
The 15-year-old committed multiple crimes over two years, shows no remorse but is "far from irredeemable", says the judge.
SINGAPORE: A teenager with "pro-criminal attitudes" who began abusing substances at the age of eight is appealing against a youth court order to send him to a boys' home.
The boy, who is now 15, was sentenced in November to be sent to the Singapore Boys' Home for 24 months.
He had pleaded guilty to four charges, with another 11 charges taken into consideration. The crimes ranged from splashing paint on house doors for loan shark harassment, theft of cigarettes, theft of cashcards from motorcycles, theft of beer and Coca-Cola and failure to wear a mask on a train.
In a judgment published on Wednesday (Dec 14), District Judge Goh Kiat Yi laid out his full grounds of decision for the sentence, as the teen is "dissatisfied" with the court order sending him to a juvenile rehabilitation centre and has filed an appeal.
The judge said that the teen had committed his offences between October 2020 and August 2022, when he was between 13 and 15 years old.
"Whilst the offences were numerous and serious, the youth did not cause direct physical harm to the victims. Given his age and considering the nature of the offences, rehabilitation remains the dominant consideration under the first stage of the inquiry," said the judge.
The teen had been assessed for probation but was found unsuitable. The probation officer recommended instead that he be placed in the Singapore Boys' Home for 24 months.
The officer found the teen's risk of reoffending to be very high. Risk factors include his pro-criminal attitudes, poor consequential thinking and misguided sense of peer loyalty.
He had reoffended while on court bail, indicating a blatant disregard for the law, inadequate remorse and entrenched offending behaviour.
THE BOY'S HISTORY OF PROBLEMATIC BEHAVIOUR
The probation officer also said the teen had a history of compliance issues, performing poorly in school and a previous guidance programme. He was also truant from school and had inadequate, inconsistent and inappropriate supervision from his caregivers.
"The youth’s reoffence is not the only issue. The youth had served two stints of remand in June 2022 and from August to September 2022 after his reoffence. It was reported by the Singapore Boys’ Home that he had committed infringements during both stints which include damaging the home’s property and violating dormitory regulations despite warnings," said Judge Goh.
He added that the teen also failed to turn up for interviews with the probation officer on multiple occasions, asking for an interview to be postponed as he was playing at the arcade with friends.
He also breached his time curfew more than five times while on court bail.
The judge noted that the teen began stealing in 2019 when he was in Primary 6, with his behaviour escalating in 2020 when he began stealing items with friends at more regular intervals.
The teen also reportedly began to exhibit aggressive conduct in mid-2021. He would bang doors, shout and hurl vulgarities at his caregivers when he got angry. He was also disciplined by his school in late 2021 for hitting a student.
The boy also has a history of substance abuse including vaping, inhaling butane gas, smoking and imbibing alcohol. He began abusing substances regularly in 2015 at the very young age of eight years old, the judge said.
He skipped sessions under the Guidance Programme and broke his curfew, with the caseworker reporting that he demonstrated "no remorse".
"The probation officer had also obtained information from the schools attended by the youth and a similar picture emerges. I find it concerning that the youth was involved in serious misbehaviors at a very young age. His primary school reported that he was involved in infringements such as smoking, mischief by fire, theft and fights," said the judge.
The boy regularly failed to attend his secondary school and was defiant towards authority. He was also truant, smoked and vaped and damaged school property.
He was suspended in early 2022 for a week for tattooing his chest. He said he had no intention to remove it as he had paid for it. He also said he was numb to the school's discipline, which did little to instil any fear or motivation to change.
For a young offender to be placed on probation, good family support and supervision are vital, said the judge.
The boy's parents were divorced in 2017 and his mother has sole custody of him. He lives with his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
His father is not involved in the boy's caregiving and they have a distant relationship, said the judge.
The boy has a strained relationship with his mother, often growing agitated when she disciplines him and failing to comply with her instructions, said the judge.
"It is also clear that the mother is unable to effectively control the youth. It was reported that the youth was unreceptive to a range of discipline meted out by the mother – including softer methods such as negotiating, reprimanding, removal of privileges to stricter methods such as threatening to call the police and caning," said Judge Goh.
He said the boy's mother was unable to stop him from breaching his curfew and reoffending, expressing helplessness towards his repeated offences.
He said it was concerning that the mother "did not present with adequate insight into the youth's needs". She found programmes such as the Guidance Programme and Pre-Family Guidance Order programme unhelpful.
The boy's primary school said his caregivers were against counselling for the boy, feeling they were able to manage him. There was limited follow-up due to the lack of parental consent.
"Whilst I do not doubt the mother’s genuine love for the child and expressed intentions to step up supervision of the child, it is doubtful whether she is able to follow through and effectively manage the youth," said the judge.
He found that there is a strong need for the boy to be placed in an environment with sufficient structure.
"I would state unequivocally that the youth is far from irredeemable," said Judge Goh.
"What he presently requires is sufficient intervention within a structured environment to address the underlying issues before they become entrenched. I am optimistic that there remains a bright future ahead of the youth if he sets his mind to change and opens up to support from the caseworkers and professionals. The youth will also need the unwavering support from his family in his rehabilitation journey."