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Newman Column: Tackling The Source Of Youth Crime

Tackling the Source of Youth Crime
Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

A core role of any government in a free democracy is protecting citizens from harm. In a democratic society, any people who are afraid to walk the streets and who are fearful in their homes are not truly free.

Last Sunday in Auckland a mother, Rita Croskery, called a public meeting to examine the growing number of violent crimes being committed by young people. Her own son was the victim of a senseless murder. He was attacked and brutally beaten to death while delivering pizzas. Nine young people, six of whom are teenagers will stand trial on charges relating to the death. Mrs Croskery has vowed that her son's death should not be in vain and that she will do all that she can to stop such horrific crimes.

More than 500 people supported her call to action. They backed a proposal for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into violent offending by young people. In particular, they identified the failure of the Children Young Persons and their Families Act to address the significant growth in serious social problems.

The group also expressed disappointment with the Government for ignoring the concerns of 92% of New Zealanders, who, in the 1999 Citizens Initiated Referendum overwhelmingly voted for tougher penalties for violent crime. They wanted truth in sentencing; custodial sentences to mean what they say, with parole being the exception rather than the rule. They absolutely reject the Government's Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill that is currently before Parliament, because they recognise that it is, in fact, soft on crime.

In fact, since most people already feel outraged at the present custodial system which reduces prison sentences by a third, they find it incredible that this government could even consider reducing such sentences by two-thirds.

The public also want a zero tolerance approach to violent crime. They understand that crime is essentially a consequence of the breakdown of personal responsibility, and they want the justice system to reinforce that punishment is a necessary consequence of any criminal act. That is particularly important in the area of child and youth offending, where penalties are instrumental in establishing a clear link between cause and effect, preventing young offenders from distancing themselves
from the consequences of their crimes.

If New Zealand is ever to get on top of the growing problem of youth crime, it is necessary to recognise that the path to crime all too often begins in the home. Parents who fail to provide their children with appropriate levels of love, nurturing and protection, damage their children's ability to develop trust. A lack of proper socialisation enables youngsters to disconnect their actions from the consequences, predisposing such young people to the sorts of unconscionable acts of violence that we have seen in recent times.

Rita Croskery made a passionate plea for parents to be accountable for the actions of their children. That means parents taking responsibility for ensuring that their children are brought up to understand the difference between right and wrong, good and bad; teaching them the values of honesty and integrity, love and caring, manners and trust, dependability and reliability; setting boundaries and instilling discipline; maintaining adequate and appropriate supervision.

For those children and young people who do go off the rails and flirt with crime, the experience should be harsh That is the basis of a zero tolerance approach: the consequences of wrong-doing at every level, must act as a disincentive, a stark reminder that crime does not pay. New Zealanders are fortunate to live in a free, democratic society. With that freedom comes certain responsibilities and obligations on citizens towards one another. In particular there is a significant responsibility on parents to ensure they raise their children in such a way that they contribute to society and to the country in a positive manner - and don't contribute instead to a break down of law and order.

---Dr Muriel Newman, MP for ACT New Zealand, writes a weekly opinion piece on topical issues for a number of community newspapers. You are welcome to forward this column to anyone you think may be interested.

View the archive of columns at < http://www.act.org.nz/action/murielnewman.html>

Visit ACT New Zealand's web site: < http://www.act.org.nz>

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