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Judith Collins on National's Youth Justice Policy

Saving a generation of young people National has developed a new Youth Justice policy. The policy adopts a holistic but no- nonsense approach to stop a conveyer belt that is carrying too many children to the fate of career criminals.

The facts

Young people aged 10 to 16 are responsible for a quarter of all crime in New Zealand.

An overwhelming number of prison inmates began their criminal careers as young offenders.

Over the past five years, the number of young people being apprehended for committing acts of violence, dishonesty, drug abuse, and property damage has steadily increased.

The kids at risk are most likely to be neglected by their parents, or have only one very young parent, or have parents who are separated or living apart. They are likely to be kids who don’t have a relationship with their fathers, frequently change address, see drug taking, domestic violence and criminal activity in their homes, get punished harshly, are victims of bullying or belong to gangs of bullies and are frequently truants from school.

Well behaved children can and do come from backgrounds like these – and troubled children can come from what looks like the best of homes, where parents have done all the right things, providing love, guidance, and time.

If we can get these at-risk kids off the conveyer belt of crime early, then we can help make better lives and a safer country.

These are some of the ways National plans to do this:

1. Supportive programmes to encourage positive parenting National wants to help families whose children have had a run-in with the law by granting the Youth Court power to issue new parenting orders. This is an initiative that has already been adopted by the United Kingdom, where it is producing highly promising results. Under parenting orders, parents whose children have been involved in offending, anti-social behaviour or truancy are required to attend regular counselling and guidance sessions on parenting skills in courses lasting up to three months. Three thousand parents participated in a trial of these orders in the UK. Two thirds on a voluntary basis.

The parenting order is designed to offer support to parents. It is not a punishment ( as portrayed by the Government) but a positive development consistent with parental responsibility, helping parents build their skills to better deal with challenging teenage behaviour. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs; some people need more help than others.

2. New tools to enable schools to address truancy School attendance, even more so than school achievement, has been identified as a particularly important factor in efforts to reduce the risk of offending by young people. In Whakatane, Police began making regular visits to the homes of truants. The parents responded by ensuring their children went to school more regularly to reduce the attention the parents were receiving from the Police. Truancy reduced dramatically, so did petty crime. National will address the truancy problem.

3. Second chance for young first offenders I believe any parent would want to see the justice system giving a second chance to a young person who has, for whatever reason had a minor brush with the law. People make mistakes. Most learn from them. But for those who continue to offend, the punishment needs to be appropriate.

4. Stiffer punishments for repeat offenders A 13 year old boy raped a young girl. He could only be dealt with by the Criminal Courts when he turned 14, having raped again.

A 12 year old boy, Bailey Junior Kurariki was dealt with by the Criminal Court for his part in the killing of Michael Choy. The boy faced criminal sanction only because the current law permits the courts to deal with murder and manslaughter charges laid against young people aged 10 or above. If Mr Choy had not been killed, but instead left maimed, Kurariki would not have faced any criminal sanction at all.

These cases are unacceptable and National will do something about it.

National will lower the age of general criminal responsibility for young people from 14 to 12. This is a mainstream stance compared to other countries. Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not see 12 year olds locked up in adult prisons. The real change will be that young people charged with serious offences will be treated seriously in the formal court system. Serious crime requires serious treatment. The longest sentence the Youth Court can currently impose on an offender is three months in a youth justice facility. Practitioners and Police say this is not enough time to address the cause of offending or to achieve positive changes in behaviour.

Youth crime is one of the urgent problems facing our country today. We have the ability to intervene and correct the behaviour of these young offenders before it is too late.

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