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Church calls on government to raise the age of youth justice

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Church calls on government to raise the age of youth justice

Ahead of a decision by Cabinet next month, The Anglican Diocese of Wellington, led by Bishop Justin Duckworth, is supporting the JustSpeakyouth justice network’s call to raise the age of youth justice to include 17 year olds at the very least.

In July, Cabinet will decide whether or not to raise the age of youth justice to include those who have reached 17 years of age, a move which has been supported by the government’s expert advisory panel. Currently 17 year olds are not eligible to buy alcohol or vote. However, if convicted of crime and sentenced to jail, they serve time in an adult prison.

Bishop Justin says the system is condemning many troubled adolescents to a future of crime and difficulty. “At 17 you are just out of childhood. Young people don’t always make the smartest decisions, especially if they come from a tough family environment. But do we really want to see them serving time in adult prisons? With a conviction, future employment becomes really difficult and we are condemning our young people to a life on the margins or as criminals.”

“Let’s not write young people off when they get to 17. We should give young people every opportunity to turn their lives around. Raising the age of youth justice is one way that we can do that.”

Bishop Justin, who in 2013 spent a week opposite Parliament in a container cell in vigil for penal reform, is particularly concerned about reoffending rates of those under 20 who go through the adult court system. According to Department of Corrections figures in 2009, a shocking 91% of prisoners under 20 were reconvicted within 2 years of release.

In the 2016 budget the government committed $355.6 million to the Department of Corrections. Around 81% of this total, some $290 million, is earmarked for the rising cost of running prisons. Only $20 million feeds into reintegration services.

Bishop Justin feels this poorly serves those at risk of offending. “Wouldn’t it be better to feed the larger sum into frontline programmes which look more intelligently in an integrated way at education, mental health provision and the youth justice system?”

Total spending on prison services is nearing a staggering $1 billion a year, and prison population growth increase led to a budget overspend of $45 million in the last 12 months. The system is clearly not working and it is no wonder that Justin feels that, three years on from his cell vigil, nothing has changed.

The Anglican Diocese of Wellington works closely with the community sector in areas of youth social work and education, parenting, mental health and addiction, family violence, prison chaplaincy and penal reform advocacy. This includes both professional services and the work of many volunteers.

The Anglican Diocese of Wellington is just one of many organisations adding its voice to the call for our government to take the opportunity to look with greater insight into ways to improve the chances of our young people.


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