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It's The Kids That Matter

It's The Kids That Matter

Thursday 2 Sep 2004

Stephen Franks - Speeches - Crime & Justice

Address to the People's Choice Forum on Crime; Nathan Homestead, Manurewa

I'm delighted to be among the election candidates who recognize just how important criminal justice is.

It's not just a matter for national politicians in Wellington, or for police control from Wellington. Whether we are safe, secure and can justifiably trust our neighbours has more effect on how we feel about our city, our suburbs and our homes than any of the things that local government politicians usually argue about.

It is right for councillors to represent Manukau's disgust with the Government's attitude to crime.

In many cities around the world, the police, judges, prosecutors and even prison managers have to respond to local priorities and local needs. In New Zealand, we have a single national police force, court system and prison system. Therefore, politicians safely ensconced in Wellington can scoff at the concerns of ordinary people. Their response to Norm Withers' referendum shows that they believe voters have short memories. They think voters will forget their criminal justice worries in national elections and vote for whoever promises the most spending of taxpayers' money.

In fact, the knowledge that we are not safe in our homes - and that mad and bad people are secretly returned to our communities long before their sentences are up - changes the way we all live.

Traffic gridlock will go when we know we are safe from criminals

If the Labour Government dared do the research, it would find that public transport is not used - primarily because of security fears. What woman wants to risk what Kylie Jones suffered in the few hundred metres between the bus stop and her home at dusk? What man wants to sit in a bus shelter wondering whether the three guys shambling toward him just want to catch a bus or instead want to pick a fight?

You can see how fears by parents for their children affects Auckland's traffic gridlock. Just note the difference during school holidays, when parents are not having to drive kids to and from school. In an earlier generation, those kids would have been walking or cycling. Manukau has the additional problem that comes with having a youthful population.

Youth crime

The Government doesn't even know how much youth crime there is. It tends to refer to police apprehension figures. Those figures vary, according to how the police classify their contacts with kids. Police say they catch between 36,000 and 40,000 per year. Of those, around 2,000 will be formally processed through the Youth Court. There will be around 7,000 family group conferences - but that does not mean 7,000 kids, because many family group conferences will involve kids who have previously had that procedure.

Today, a new Justice Ministry report has been released. It says:

"A large proportion of offending by young people is not being entered into [the computer] and for offences that are being entered, the Youth Justice fields are often not being filled in correctly or at all. This project has highlighted a very large under-recording of offences and other youth related data"

Even the incomplete data is shattering. It says that 14-16 year-olds alone recorded close to 34,000 offences requiring police intervention last year.

What to do about it?

The reasons for this crime wave are not mysterious - except to the Labour politicians and elite officials. They think that if we are just nice enough to criminals for long enough, they will decide to be nice back.

Research shows that criminals are gamblers. Uncertainty encourages them. They think they can beat the odds. Speed and certainty of punishment are more important than longer or harsher punishment. This is even more important for young people than for adults.

The message must be simple. Here's what ACT says: we want to work with local councillors who share our commonsense. People's Choice is showing today it understands this.

Target Entry Level Crime More Than Headline Crime The primary change should be in Youth Justice. It's too late once they have a life pattern of offending.

· Reduce criminal responsibility to age 10 for homicide, and 12 for all other offences.

· Give adult sentences for adult crimes, but ensure they are served in youth facilities away from career criminals.

· Hold young people responsible for law breaking, as well as the adults who facilitate offences. They should know when buying cigarettes or alcohol, or being found drunk, or being a prostitute is unlawful.

· Restore non-association orders as a routine and strictly enforced consequence of offending, to break up gangs and make bad company a burden.

· End Family Court involvement to show crime is taken seriously.

· Allow family group conferencing only for initial offences, so that it is seen as a second chance, not a soft touch.

· End the charade of family group conferencing when offenders have no responsible family members.

· End name and record suppression for guilty young people and their families, to cancel the message that youth offending does not really matter. Shame is the first deterrent to offending in healthy societies.

· Hold parents responsible for readily preventable child offending.

· Protect parents, clubs, schools and employers who set behaviour standards from being pilloried by the courts in hindsight for trivial breaches of process.

· Pay more than lip service to restorative justice by making outcome agreements enforceable and authorise probation officers to supervise performance.

· Legitimise police diversion/detention and tough love programmes for first offenders as an alternative to ordinary court enforcement.

The Goal

I look forward to the day when Manukau residents know they are again in one of the safest cities in the world, when they can sensibly trust their neighbours, when kids routinely walk or bike to school again, and the main reason why kids choose not to be nasty pests to their community, is not fear of police attention. It is the wish to be well regarded in their neighbourhoods, and not to be a disgrace to their parents.


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