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Not much new on youth justice from Brash

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice

21 March 2005
Media statement

Not much new on youth justice from Brash

Justice Minister Phil Goff says there is not a lot new in the youth justice policy outlined by Don Brash today.

"For example, the key initiative he sings the praise of with respect to truancy is a Whakatane programme introduced under the government's new Youth Offending Teams strategy.

"Another idea Brash promotes is Multi-Systemic Therapy, a wrap-around approach that is already being used in New Zealand in such programmes as Reducing Youth Offending, the Epuni Severe Conduct Disorder Programme, and it is expected to be used in Te Hurihanga. The same essential philosophy is also being used successfully in such programmes as Project Early.

"He implies, but doesn't say outright, that youth offending is getting worse. That, of course, was contradicted by the Principal Youth Court Judge, Andrew Becroft, who says youth offending has been stable for 15 years.

"That is not to say that youth offending isn't significant and shouldn't be taken seriously – it is, and that is demonstrated by the range of new initiatives and the increase in spending that has been allocated to this area over the last five years. These include:

- Youth Offending Teams set up in 30 districts;
- Social Workers in Schools received an extra $16.4 million over three years in last year's Budget, meaning 330 low decile schools will have the services of 115 social workers by 2006;
- Family Start has been broadened and strengthened with $31.9 million provided in last year's Budget to increase its coverage from 16 to 24 communities in the next three years;
- More than $30 million per annum is spent on alternative education, district truancy services and student engagement initiatives;
- Young offenders with significant education or health problems now undergo comprehensive assessments prior to their first Family Group Conference, and are linked into appropriate follow-up services after their FGC.

"Where appropriate and necessary, a tougher line is being taken with parents who ignore, or just don't care about, their kids being absent from school. A new prosecution system is being trialled, which has been effective.

"The government has also introduced new programmes for intensive treatment of serious young offenders, such as the Reducing Youth Offending Programme, which focuses on young offenders at risk of progressing to chronic adult offending, and Te Hurihanga, which provides a mix of education, life skills training, and medical and psychological care to help rehabilitate young offenders in the Waikato. In addition, the 2003 Residential Services Strategy has provided an overall increase of 27 beds for young offenders.

"These collectively go well beyond what Don Brash is apparently even aware of.

"With respect to the age of criminal responsibility being reduced from 14 to 12 for purely indictable offences, this affects a very small number of offenders aged 12 and 13 – 102 in 2003, of whom 80 were arsonists.

"We already have provision for custody of 12-16 year-olds who have offended sexually, and an intensive programme to deal with their offending. Over the age of 14, they can be dealt with in the District Court.

"The Family Court system provides a wide range of powers to allow 10 to 13-year-olds and their parents to be held accountable for their offending.

"We haven't ruled out lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12 but on numbers and with existing powers, this may not have a significant effect.

"On the question of holding parents responsible, and the issuing of Parenting Orders, the Family Court can currently order parents to pay for reparation, take children out of the custody of parents and place them elsewhere, issue non-association orders and require parents or their children to undertake counselling.

"Dr Brash is apparently unaware of this.

"Parenting Orders, while we are monitoring their effect in the UK, may not add much to powers that are currently in the Family and Youth Courts," Mr Goff said.


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