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Custodial Orders

In the past, justice was individualized as juvenile courts focused on the needs of the particular juvenile rather than on the nature of the offense committed. Under the current law, the only individualized requirement is that the child be above 12 years but under 18 years of age. Beyond this, the court has to concentrate on the offense committed. Where the offense is one for which a sentence of 1-month imprisonment without the option of a fine would ordinarily have been imposed, then a detention order may be made.[1] This change represents a shift in the old paradigm of focusing on the offender to a new one of focusing on the offense as the criminal justice system requires.

The apparent abandonment of individualized justice of juvenile justice philosophy, in favor of the general penal philosophy of the criminal justice system, is a change that is bound to alter the very shape and achievements of the system in the near future. It is conceded that this change may have been motivated by certain realities in the field, but it is uncertain whether it represents progress or otherwise. It is a well-known fact that it was largely on account of the differences in custodial time limits imposed for offenses in the district courts as opposed to what was obtained in the juvenile courts that usually motivated juveniles to inflate or collude with the police to inflate their ages so they could be tried as adults. Once tried as adults, they would receive sentences of imprisonment that had to be served in adult prisons, and it was only then that they would realize that life in an adult prison was not for children, thus creating difficulties for the system and giving it adverse publicity. Fortunately, the Act gives power to the minister to transfer juveniles and young persons in adult prisons to Senior Correctional Centres,[2] so that if such problems occur, they could be dealt with speedily.

Following from the change in philosophy, a new scale of detention orders, graduated according to the age of the juvenile, has been introduced, thus making “detention order” merely a term of imprisonment by a polite name, particularly when the special terminology of “disposition” seems to have been replaced by “sentence” under the Act. The maximum time for a detention order is:

  • (a) Three months for a juvenile offender under the age of 16 years
  • (b) Six months for a juvenile offender of or above 16 years but under 18 years
  • (c) Twenty-four months for a young offender of or above the age of 18 years
  • (d) Three years for a serious offense[3]

The shortness of the detention orders, however, means that the system has abandoned all pretense of rehabilitation by offering skills training, as no skill can be acquired in less than 6 months, even with intensive training.

  • [1] Section 43 (1)
  • [2] Section 49
  • [3] Section 46 (1)
 
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