A 14-year-old boy arrested for a masked petrol station hold-up and kept in a "barren and desolate" police cell for five days has today been granted an early release after stunning officials with his behavioural turnaround.
A Youth Court judge was so dismayed to learn of the boy's detention at a Christchurch Central Police Station cell earlier this year that she went to visit it for herself.
Judge Jane McMeeken found it an "inappropriate" place that was unfit for holding people for days on end, especially young people. The room only had a mattress and toilet, with no natural light, the judge said.
The teenager, charged with aggravated robbery and unlawfully taking a car, had been kept in the police cells because there had been no youth offender facilities available.
Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, said young people should never spend more than 24 hours in police custody but that is not always possible, especially when resources are strained.
Judge McMeeken made no criticism of police but put the Ministry of Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki on notice.
Today at the Youth Court at Christchurch, the youngster was granted early release on six months supervision after impressing with his behaviour and application at Te Puna Wai youth justice facility.
Youth advocate Colin Eason said it shows that when the boy is in the right place, and helped in the right way, "this very good young man comes out of the box".
He was hopeful the boy wouldn't return to his old ways.
"Are you going to do dumb stuff again?" Judge McMeeken asked the boy, to which he replied: "I'll try not to."
In August, he was sentenced to three months' supervision with residence after he was caught robbing a petrol station with some older people, disguised and carrying a claw hammer and hockey stick. During the terrifying robbery, they stole $6000 worth of cigarettes and cash. He'd earlier been involved in a robbing the same petrol station - again disguised and wielding a claw hammer - for $6000 in cash and tobacco.
His previous history of stealing cars, fleeing police, and other crimes had led to the police seeking a Care and Protection Order made by the Family Court earlier this year.
The boy will next month shift to a North Island transitional facility for people released from youth justice. In the meantime, he will be supervised at a community home and get help from 180 Degrees Trust, which gives youth support.
"I now know you can make good decisions and do good stuff," Judge McMeeken said.
"If some idiot comes along and suggests you steal something, you can say no."
The judge had concerns that at just 14, the boy had nowhere to live and had been locked up in police cells when he should've had whanau willing and able to care for him.
She said the vulnerable teen required intensive and long-term assistance. Oranga Tamariki had a "huge obligation" to him, the judge said, adding that it was "vitally important everything possible is done now for this young man".
"The answer to the problem can't just be to lock you up."
As the boy was released, Judge McMeeken told him: "Good luck. Make good decisions."