Ry ANN KIMMEL MOST juvenile crime is caused by the failure Of parents to teach their children the difference between right and wrong, according to Mrs. Dermot Morrah, retiring chairman of London s Metropolitan Juvenile Courts. "A child must learn to become master of his own soul," she told the CATHOLIC HERALD this week. "That is why I have opposed raising the age of criminal responsibility."
By an Act passed earlier this year. the age when a child is considered to be guilty of wrongdoing was raised from eight years to 10. "It should be about six." said Mrs. Morrah. "So many people always try to take away a child's responsibility. blaming external circumstances, even to the extent of claiming that a 16-year-old criminal cannot be guilty because he was born prematurely." Mrs. Morrah, who is a Catholic, has fought what she calls this "philosophy of excuse" towards juvenile delinquents during the 19 years she has held her post. But while indicting parents on the grounds of failing to instil in their children at an early age a sense of responsibility for their actions, she feels that in most cases a youngster — even after conviction for a crime — is better off at home.
Some children have to'bc taken from their homes, she said, but the value of sending them to Approved Schools varied according to the quality of the school. "I have a high opinion of Catholic schools for girls; not so high for the boys' schools. The brothers are doing excellent work with them. but there's not enough female influence. Boys are more tender creatures than girls; they need mothers evert more than girls need fathers."
Remand homes serve a useful purpose for the two or three weeks during which a young person was awaiting trial. There should be more such homes nearer London, she said, so that London eousrtssceontu theldkreee.p a closer eye on those
The Probation Service does a magnificent job, she said. But pro. bation officers have to carry an enormous case load because the service is undermanned.
"These people are being given more and more to do," she said, "without a corresponding increase in salary. They can't strike — or they won't. But it is very hard for men to have to keep families on the sort of money offered in the Probation Service."
Mrs. Morrah said she was "distressed" by the number of Catholic children appearing before the juvenile courts. Very few of the parents of these children appeared to practise their religion and here both the church and the parish priest must take their share of the blame.
Summing .up her years in the courts, Mrs. Morrah said she felt the hest way society could counter juvenile delinquency was by helping families to face their problents intelligeetly.
"Family Service Units, begun by the Quakers during the war, are doing a magnificent job of counselling, but they are limited in numbers and can't do enough," she added.
Although leaving juvenile work. Mrs. Morrah plans to continue as a justice in North London magistrate courts. "When I cease to battle I'll be old and finished. I don't feel that way now," she said.