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Include all children in our youth justice system

Include all children in our youth justice system: An open letter to PM John Key and Cabinet Ministers

12 Sept 2016

We write to you as people who have frontline and research experience of vulnerability in our care and protection and justice systems. Each of us in our 33 organisations witness this vulnerability as we play our different roles in supporting children, families and whānau.

Collectively we call on you to include 17 year olds in the youth justice system.

We endorse the intent of the care system reforms to better support our most vulnerable children, and appreciate your consideration of raising the age of youth justice.

The Social Services Select Committee recently heard from many of us about how illogical and impractical it will be to have different ages for care and youth justice when they are so often the same children. But most importantly, including 17 year olds in the youth justice system is the right thing to do. All children deserve a fair go, especially when they have so often had a rough start.

If you do not include 17 year olds in the youth justice system you are failing to take action to break the crime cycle for these children. Children already associated with police and justice systems need very specific attention to maximise the chance of them thriving.

Last week Queensland became the last Australian state to extend the youth justice system to include 17 year olds. It’s time for us to do the same. The evidence is crystal clear. Collectively, we call on you to include 17 year olds in our youth justice system.

The public agrees. The most recent study of public opinion on youth crime found that people value restorative justice and rehabilitation over punishment[1]. Most people think that it is never too late to help a young person to change their future. In fact, those who have been victims themselves are even more likely to be supportive of rehabilitative approaches, such as found in our youth justice system.

Together we represent people working directly in the care and protection, justice and research areas. This means that we are the ones who see the importance that this change would make and how sorely it is needed.

You have the chance to make a really big difference in supporting the most vulnerable children in the justice system, most of whom are in state care.

When you take on parental responsibilities they are still your children when they get into trouble. They become more vulnerable, not less. We need to hold children to account in a way that doesn’t set them up for a life of crime.

This week New Zealand will be judged on the international stage in Geneva when the Government responds to questions from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. New Zealand is still in breach of our international obligations to our children by treating 17 year olds as adults.

We would be very happy to meet with you, share our experience and answer any queries that you have about how best to support our children so that they have the opportunities, support and accountability to be healthy, happy and decent adults.

Ngā mihi

Dr Katie Bruce, Director, and Julia Whaipooti, Chair, JustSpeak
Major Campbell Roberts, Principal Advisor and Annaliese Johnson, Social Policy Advisor, Salvation Army, Social Policy Research and Parliamentary Affairs Unit
Vivien Maidaborn, Chief Executive and Dr Prudence Stone, Child Rights Advocate, UNICEF NZ
Janfrie Wakim, Co-Convenor, Child Poverty Action Group
Bishop Justin Duckworth, Anglican Bishop of Wellington
David Hanna, Director, Wesley Community Action
Moira Lawler, Chief Executive, Lifewise
Philippa McAtee, Manager, Wellington Women’s Refuge
Verna McFelin, Chief Executive, Pillars
Guy Pope-Mayell, Chair of Trustees, Dyslexia Foundation
Elizabeth Tennet, Chief Executive, Community Law Centres o Aotearoa
Vanushi Walters, General Manager, YouthLaw Aotearoa
Sarah Te One, Chairperson, Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa
Stephen Bell, Chief Executive, Youthline
Heather Hayden, Chief Executive, Save the Children New Zealand
Zach Makoare, Founder, Te Taitimu Trust
Ellen Hall, General Manager, Tūtaki Youth Inc.
Sally Kedge, Founding member, Talking Trouble
Steve O'Connor, Director, Challenge 2000
Arama Ngāpō-Lipscombe, Acting National Chief Executive Officer, YMCA New Zealand
Anya Satyanand, Executive Officer, Ara Taiohi
Phil McCarthy, National Director, PFNZ
Mike Hinton, General Manager, Restorative Practices Aotearoa
Sue Wright, Executive Director, Brainwave Trust Aotearoa
Associate Professor Nicola Taylor, Director, and Megan Gollop, Senior Research Fellow, Children's Issues Centre, University of Otago
Rebecca Williams, Director, Alcohol Healthwatch Trust
Claire Gyde, Chairperson, FASD-CAN Inc.
Dr Brigit Mirfin-Veitch, Director, Donald Beasley Institute
Marceline Borren, National Co-ordinator, ADHD Association
Marianne Kayes, Secretary, OMEP
Peter Glensor, General Manager, Hui E
Dr Kim Workman, JustSpeak strategic advisor and the founder of Rethinking Crime and Punishment
Professor Mark Henaghan, Dean of Law, University of Otago
Dr Nessa Lynch, Senior Lecturer, Victoria University
David Tong, Co-Chair, Human Rights Lawyers Association

[1] Barretto, C., Miers, S. and Lambie, I. (2016). The Views of the Public on Youth Offenders and the New Zealand Criminal Justice System. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (1-21).


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