The decision of National MP Mark Mitchell to withdraw the Oranga Tamariki (Youth Justice Demerits Points) Bill is a win for children, young people and democracy, Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said today.
Parliament’s Social Services and Community Committee announced today it was recommending the Bill not proceed and that Mr Mitchell requested it be withdrawn. The Children’s Commissioner had submitted against the Bill when it was before the Committee earlier this year.
“The Bill would have established a rigid demerit point system without the flexibility and discretion, led by the Police Youth Aid Team, to deal with the young person’s individual circumstances,” Commissioner Becroft says.
“It would have criminalised more children and young people, particularly those who are Māori, care experienced or disabled, and funnelled many more directly into the adult court system and on to prison.
“Withdrawing this Bill was a principled decision and the right thing to do – for young people, their whānau and for the youth justice system.
“On the surface the Bill may have appeared to be tough on crime, but the overwhelming evidence presented by submitters was that it risked causing more harm both to young people and to the community.
“I want to congratulate Mr Mitchell, as the new custodian of the Bill, for listening to the evidence and withdrawing it.
“New Zealand has a world-renowned youth justice system. The next change needed is to expand it so all 17-year-olds can be dealt with within it. Two years ago, some 17-year-olds were brought within the system – that has proven to work, and now Government should urgently finish the job.
“Youth offending has been steadily decreasing in New Zealand over the past two decades but there are still changes that can be made to improve outcomes for young people.
“Much more needs to be done to focus on the underlying drivers of crime such as poverty and racism. A priority must be keeping children and young people out of the justice system and within their whānau and communities.
“These approaches are where the evidence leads us. The withdrawal of the Bill is a further step towards a child-focused, evidence-based approach that will really work to keep communities safe, and improve outcomes for children and young people,” Commissioner Becroft said.
The OCC submission on the Bill can be found here