An Illawarra mother convicted of child neglect charges after allowing her children to live in extreme squalor would have faced a harsher sentence if she had been raising dogs, a court has heard.
Wollongong magistrate Mark Douglass on Friday condemned restrictive sentencing laws that prevented him from sending the woman to jail – a day after describing the case as one of the worst examples of child neglect he’d ever seen.
“In relation to penalty in this matter, these are a fine-only offences,” he said.
“Had the level of abuse these children endured been suffered by animals, this court would have more sentencing options available.
“If this involved cats or dogs, I would have had the option of sentencing this woman to jail and making orders that reduced the risk of this sort of thing happening again – here, I’m not able to do that.
“Whilst I can denounce her conduct by suggesting it is perhaps one of the worst cases of neglect that’s been brought to me in a criminal form, there’s not much more that this court can do in relation to sentencing the offender.
“This is an area where perhaps the community has been let down by the sentencing regime. Clearly having more sentencing options available would be appreciated by judicial officers.”
Court documents reveal officers who turned up to the house in October last year to check on the welfare of the three young children described the living conditions inside the home as “near uninhabitable”.
They said the house was covered in human faeces, there was a drawer full of rotting food, unwashed clothing piled high and an infestation of flies and cockroaches in multiple rooms.
The children were immediately removed from their mother’s care by Family and Community Services.
The woman was subsequently charged with neglecting a young person in care and taking action that results in health/physical damage, to which she pleaded guilty.
The maximum penalty that could be imposed in court on Friday was a fine of $44,000: Magistrate Douglass chose to reduce that to $25,000 given the woman’s early guilty plea.
However, at the same time he also fully acknowledged the futility of the sentence.
“This person has had periods of homelessness and has no real access to money,” he said.
“It’s hard to be satisfied that a monetary fine will act as a deterrent to such offending given her circumstances, but that is what the court is required to do by the direction of parliament.”
The woman was not present in court to hear the sentence but will have 28 days in which to lodge an appeal.