Hard line on youth crims floated

By MARTIN KAY - The Dominion Post | Tuesday, 17 April 2007

The age of criminal prosecution could be lowered to 12 for serious and repeat offenders as the Government floats suggestions of a harder line.

The most serious young offenders could also face longer custodial and supervision sentences and be subjected to home detention and electronically monitored parole.

This follows calls from many youth justice professionals for tougher measures against those who persistently break the law or have underlying drug or alcohol problems.

The suggestions are included in a Social Development Ministry discussion document on the 1989 Children, Young Persons and their Families Act.

The ministry stressed the document was not government policy, but the paper notes widespread concern about "a small number" of children under 14 who are falling into "sustained patterns of offending".

The age of criminal responsibility is 10, but at present children under 14 can be prosecuted only for murder or manslaughter.

The discussion document says there is widespread support for the present system, but also concern that a tougher line is needed for children of 12 and 13 who consistently offend.

The suggestions were based on consultation with people including the principal judges of the Youth and Family courts, the children's commissioner and youth justice workers.

Suggested changes include lowering the age of criminal prosecution to 12 for persistent and serious offenders, allowing them to be dealt with in the Youth Court, which can make a greater range of orders.

There was also a suggestion to allow purely indictable offences - such as rape, arson and supply of class A drugs - committed by 12 and 13-year-olds to be dealt with in the Youth Court, rather than the Family Court.

The document says the Government is already investigating increasing the period of youth justice custody for 14 to 16-year-olds from three months to six, with a further six months' supervision and possible electronic parole for those released early.

It is also considering increasing non-custodial supervision orders from three to six months, with six months' monitoring.

Home detention could also be an option.

Any move to allow 12-year-olds to be prosecuted for crimes other than murder and manslaughter would be a direction change for the Government, which has consistently argued that youth crime rates are stable and resisted calls for tougher measures.

Though Labour allowed a bill from NZ First MP Ron Mark to lower the age of prosecution to 12 to go a select committee, its support is not guaranteed further.

Mr Mark said yesterday that the discussion document flew in the face of criticisms of his bill.

"This is the final admission of two things. One, youth crime is a serious problem - recidivist serious youth crime is a huge and growing problem - and the systems that they've been running for the last 30 years that they've hailed as leading the world are fundamentally flawed."


Maori youth offending

Paper Addressing Some Introductory Issues By
His Honour Judge A J Becroft
Principal Youth Court Judge
Te Kaiwhakawa Matua o Te Kooti Taiohi

8-10 November 2005, Nelson

I. Introduction 1

Maori youth offenders make up around 50% of all youth offenders but in some Youth Courts the figure is as high as 80% or 90% - despite Maori encompassing only about a quarter of the New Zealand population under 17 years of age.2 This situation is deeply concerning to everyone involved in youth justice.

Of further concern is problematic research into the experiences of young Maori within the criminal justice system. This research published by the Ministry of Social Development reveals that young Maori are more likely than other racial groups to receive severe outcomes such as orders for supervision either in the community or a youth justice residence. Researchers concluded these more severe outcomes were due to "increased vigilance" by the public and the police with regard to Maori youth. Further, Maori youth are more likely to be dealt with in the Youth Court, where more severe sentences are meted out, than by Family Group Conference.3 These more severe outcomes may result from Maori being brought to the attention of the youth justice system more frequently.

This raises the question of whether our legal system demonstrates a "systemic bias" against Maori young people. Weatherburn, Fitzgerald and Hua (2003) argue, in relation to Australia, that although systemic bias has existed historically in the Australian criminal justice system, the fact that a high percentage of Aboriginal people are in custody is simply due to the fact that relatively more Aboriginal people commit crime, especially more serious crime.4 Weatherburn et al argue that responses to the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody have tended to focus on changing Police and Court processes rather than attacking underlying societal and economic causes of crime.


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