The 19 year-old defendant sits behind the armoured glass of the secure dock, flanked by a Serco guard. Tall, mixed-race, he sits in a slumped posture. He has stolen and promptly eaten less than two pounds' worth of food from a supermarket. He has spent the night in custody, for no reason that I can understand. Guilty Plea. The duty solicitor mitigates. Her client stole because he was hungry. He was in care for most of his young life, and turned loose when he became 16. Whatever support he was given has vanished now. He has no family, no friends, no job, no home. The solicitor urges us to impose a fine, deemed served by the time in custody which will allow the young man's immediate release. That's the way we go.
The solicitor tells us that she has directed the client to go straight to the Civic Centre to try to sort out some emergency accommodation. The young man does not look up while this is going on.
Magistrates are not social workers. We just played our small part - the criminal justice system has absolutely nothing to offer this young man, other than a prison cell if, like so very many former in-care young people, he turns to crime.
I have no power to do anything about him, but I can't get him out of my mind.
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