The BBC have just confirmed that John Venables, one of two at the time, boys, responsible for killing James Bulger has been released from prison back into society at large, despite having been recalled in 2010 for accessing images of child abuse on a computer. Mr Venables has been given a new identity and will be re-integrating back into the community as we type.
The most obvious question has to be who permitted the release and thought, on any level, that allowing a now grown man with obvious psychological difficulties and what we believe must be very worrying and persistent mental health issues given his last offence in 2010, was acceptable? And how is it, that we have such terrifying disparities within our family justice system when it comes to who we deem fit to be around our children?
The first question is harder to answer than the second – we would like to know who approved his release. The second question boils down to the archaic distinction our family justice system still makes in terms of ‘criminal’ and ‘civil’ wrongs. And whilst some offences fit neatly into these categories, the obvious overlap when it comes to child welfare causes huge problems, with things like thresholds for evidence and burdens of proof, differing in both civil and criminal courts, which then ricochet throughout the system and cause these odd outcomes, like the one relating to men like Mr Venables.
But John Venables was not a man when he committed these offences. He was a young boy, who had come from a dislocated background and suffered all the trademarks of a neglected child. And yet the justice system treated him, not as a child in need of help himself, but as a criminal. And so he has spent his life behind bars, without the support he actually needed.
Now, at 31, Mr Venables is free to walk the streets and despite being banned from using social media websites, file sharing services or working with children (for now – the restrictions have a 5 year lifespan), there appears to be no hands-on monitoring of his physical whereabouts in any meaningful way. After all, unless John Venables is in prison, or somewhere where he is detained, he cannot be watched constantly, and we already know that previous attempts at monitoring him outside of the prison forum have failed, as the BBC article tells us.
So, what now? Having lapsed into drink and drug abuse upon release in the past, there are very real concerns that Mr Venables may do the same again. There is no mention of him having undergone therapy, or treatment, no diagnosis of what is clearly an entrenched condition, with many in the field of psychiatry focusing on child abuse being of the opinion that abusers like this can never really be healed, and no indication that there is faith in this recent decision to release him. Both his mother and his lawyer fear his release is a time bomb, with devastating consequences.
Our justice system is still too under-developed for 21st century citizens. Mr Venables should have been sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he should have been diagnosed and treated. In all likelihood, though it is now largely irrelevant, he would probably have never been released.