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Choy Report Released

Case review of young offenders convicted over the killing of Michael Choy

Background

On 12 September 2001, Michael Choy, a Pizza deliverer, was robbed and fatally injured by six young people, aged between 12 and 17 years old.

Those responsible for his death have since been held to account by the justice system. Two offenders received life imprisonment for murder, four received between seven and twelve years imprisonment for manslaughter.

This and another murder case in Waitara around the same time involving two other teenage offenders, heightened public concern about serious crime being committed by such young offenders.

Police statistics record that youth crime has been relatively stable, in fact declined slightly, over the last five years.

However, the tragedy which these deaths represent for the family and friends of the victims, and the wasted lives of those sentenced to long years of imprisonment, raise questions of what more might have been done to prevent those events from happening.

Late last year, Ministers asked for an interdepartmental review to examine actions taken by agencies dealing with the young offenders prior to their involvement in Michael Choy’s death.

The reviewers were asked what lessons might be learned and what changes might be required for the future to help avoid at risk young people going on to commit serious crimes.

Findings of the Report

The Report found nothing in the case histories of the six offenders which suggested any one of them was on a trajectory to committing homicide. There was little to indicate they presented a risk of committing a serious violent offence. Only the youngest offender represented a high risk of re-offending which might involve violence.

However they shared common negative influences: their families were unable to control their behaviour they were often absent from or performing poorly at school they mixed with peers who reinforced their anti-social behaviour.

The Report found that agencies dealing with the offenders had by and large followed established and required procedures.

They had in many instances invested considerable time and effort in working with these young offenders.

However, among the systemic problems listed by the Review were a failure to address the causes of offending, inadequate record keeping, lack of awareness by front line staff of the provisions of the CYPF Act, and inadequate support or awareness of available support for schools dealing with behavioural problems.

While none of these factors were specifically responsible for the tragedy of Michael Choy’s death, dealing with those problems would in general terms have reduced the risk of further offending.

The Report outlines three key areas where improvements are needed

identifying the causes of, and effective interventions to address, criminal behaviour

keeping young people participating in education

ensuring effective training of, and coordination between, those tasked with responding to young offenders.

Response to the Report

In a number of respects, the new Youth Offending Strategy arising out of last year’s Ministerial Taskforce on youth offending is already addressing these areas:

new youth offending teams involving Police, Child Youth and Family Health and Education will help to ensure a coordinated and comprehensive approach by agencies dealing with young offenders;

intensified and joint training of front line police and CYF staff will strengthen the skills, guidelines and communication needed to identify and address the problems contributing to offending;

ensuring that Family Group Conferences have access to health and education assessments for high risk offenders which will help ensure interventions address identified needs;

an improved data recording and collection process will provide courts and family group conferences with a better case history of offenders and previous interventions;

development and funding of new programmes, both community based and residential, will provide intensive rehabilitation programmes for higher risk offenders.

In addition, further interventions are being developed.

the Ministry of Education is reviewing student truancy and non-enrolment, and scoping the development of a National Student Database to ensure truants can be tracked.

the Government is considering the expansion of early intervention programmes to work with teachers and families to tackle behavioural problems before they become entrenched.

better information will be provided to schools on support services available to assist at risk students, to enable enrolment of such students and reduce expulsions.

There are no simple or instant solutions to the problem of youth offending.

New sentencing and parole laws have toughened the response to serious crime.

However, prevention rather than simply reaction after the event is necessary to avoid tragedies such as the murder of Michael Choy.

This review, the needs that it highlights and the responses it recommends will contribute towards achieving that outcome.

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