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Plan could close gaps in Youth Justice System

Youth Plan could close gaps in Youth Justice System – Rethinking

“John Key’s proposals for the Youth Justice System could close some existing policy gaps” said Kim Workman, Project Leader, Rethinking Crime and Punishment.

“There is a discernable shift from the “tough on crime” rhetoric of yesteryear. With a couple of exceptions, I would find it hard to label this policy as “tough”. The measures are a logical and potentially effective response for dealing with the hardcore group of around 1,000 serious young offenders. The trick will be to ensure that these measures aren’t wasted on young offenders who don’t need them. The Justice System has a bad habit of ‘net widening’ - using “last resort” measures prematurely, with negative results.

The ‘Youth Guarantee’ training policy will provide good options for those young people who struggle in a formal education setting, and have high social and educational needs. The “Fresh Start” proposal of extended life skill training for serious youth offenders, with equal measures of personal accountability and support, has the potential to succeed. A number of these programmes currently operate, but desperately need government support. The extension of sentences in the Youth System facility for up to 6 months is needed for those children that are recycled back to seriously dysfunctional families. There is a huge current need for community based drug and alcohol treatment for young offenders as well as for adults.

We are less convinced about the effectiveness of parenting courses, for the parents of serious offenders. Our experience is that the more effective approach is to establish positive relationships with parents, and work one-to-one with them over months – even years. Parents who are directed to attend a parenting course, are going to respond in much the same way as their children respond to the school experience.

There is no evidence to support extending the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to 12 and 13 years, beyond the existing judicial discretion. It’s a bit of a “muscle flexer”, but is unlikely to go anywhere.

Kim Workman Project Leader Rethinking Crime and Punishment director@rethinking.org.nz www.rethinking.org.nz

ENDS

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