To be attributed to Judge Frances Eivers, Chief Children’s Commissioner:
Submissions on the Ram Raid Offending and Related Measures Amendment Bill closed last week.
This bill would add ‘ram-raids’ to the Crimes Act, punishable by up to ten years in jail, and give police the power to prosecute children as young as 12 years old. It was proposed in a flurry of election campaigning that promised various reforms to the youth justice system and approaches to children who offend.
Amidst the noise, let’s remember the mokopuna at the centre of these discussions and invest in solutions to youth offending that work.
Most children who come into the youth justice system have come from backgrounds of trauma and disadvantage and have complex needs.
When children go through court proceedings at such a formative age, it risks tangling them in the wider net of the criminal justice system, risking further harm to their wellbeing and to their future.
The evidence shows us, time and again, that the system is simply a pipeline to prison, and mokopuna Māori, Pacific and disabled children are consistently overrepresented at every level.
I truly believe a criminal response is not a solution.
In July, I went to Geneva to attend the UN review of our government’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture. This just happened to take place the same week the government introduced this new bill.
The Committee examined our record on children’s rights in detention, and two of its strong recommendations involved addressing the overrepresentation of mokopuna Māori in the youth justice system, and raising our minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old. This would bring us in line with international standards.
As an advocate for children’s rights, Mana Mokopuna cannot support law changes that seek to imprison children. We want to see an approach that simultaneously looks after those who have been hurt by youth offending and acts in the best interests of our mokopuna.
The focus must be on looking at the causes of child offending as it simply doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Instead of punishing these children, we should be doing everything we can to nurture and support them, in the context of their whānau.
Mana Mokopuna recently visited the team delivering the Kotahi te Whakaaro programme in Manurewa. It’s an early intervention programme that involves government, iwi, community and youth organisations working together at speed to provide intensive support to mokopuna and their whānau who really need it.
This approach has already seen good results, including a dramatic fall in ‘ram-raiding’ – 82% of young people referred have not re-offended. Crucially, the programme wraps support around parents and whānau within 24 hours of a young person’s referral by police and takes a strong child wellbeing focus rather than a punitive one.
I’m sure we’d all agree that a 12 or 13 year old, given the right support, has enormous potential to make change in their life. Investing in restorative solutions is more cost effective and better for young people and everyone in Aotearoa.
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Mana Mokopuna | Children and Young People's Commission
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