National | Ministry For Children

Rethink urged for the way youth offenders are dealt with

Children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft has stated that getting young offenders back to supportive whanau will be a priority, in a report released today.

Its recommendations are aimed at the under-fire Oranga Tamariki, who have been recently criticised for their handling of the removal of children from parents with a history of abuse and neglect.

Eighty percent of the 140 young people in secure youth justice residences are on remand while waiting for the completion of their court case.

Of these, a disproportionate number, at least 70 percent are Māori. Often the charges against them haven’t been proven, but they nevertheless find themselves in a youth justice facility, sometimes for weeks at a time.

“We know custodial remand in a Youth Justice facility is usually neither necessary nor the answer to stopping re- offending,” said Becroft.

“We also know that being bailed into the community can provide constructive support and help young people find positive futures.”

A key finding in the report is that young people have said that too often bail conditions simply set them up to fail, and that they should be tailored to the realities of their lives.

In addition, the report calls for stronger and more consistent relationships between social workers, young people and their whānau, more training for social workers and an increased focus on mentoring.

It also recommends that the justice system strengthens its whānau search, engagement and support processes, to enable more young people to be cared for in their communities, rather than held on remand. It also says to significantly increase the number of community-based remand and specialist care options, located close to whānau and staffed by trained, experienced personnel who are skilled in working with young people.

Becroft also noted that simply locking up young offenders often has the exact opposite consequence of the one intended.

“Segregating alleged offenders away from the mainstream and aggregating them in institutions doesn’t promote enduring rehabilitation or behavioural change. On the contrary, it increases the likelihood of offending and adverse life outcomes.”