To be attributed to Chief Children's Commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers:
“I was frustrated to hear that the Government intends to build not one, but two more Youth Justice Residences. Building more prison-like facilities for young offenders is a short-term reactive measure. I urge the government to focus on what would be best for young offenders and public safety alike and invest in addressing the causes of the offending.
“The current police investigation into allegations of mistreatment of mokopuna in Oranga Tamariki residences is incomplete, yet before we even have an understanding of the extent and depth of the harm our mokopuna have experienced in these residences there is a plan to build more?
“This plan runs completely contrary to what the government’s own report to the UN CAT Committee states about places of detention for mokopuna, on which a government delegation will be questioned today in Geneva. The report supports a position of therapeutic care based in communities, not increasing the number of residences.
"The report also notes that in all youth detention residences Māori are overrepresented and recognises its responsibilities under Te Tiriti o Waitangi to reduce these disparities by, for example, considering tikanga Māori and partnering with hapu and iwi in the rehabilitation of young offenders. I see nothing in today’s announcement that honours that commitment.
“Today’s announcement also included a call for an increased use of secure care for mokopuna.
“Secure care is contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, and as recently as February 2023, the UN called on the NZ government to invest in the development of community-based residences and to strengthen the use of non-custodial measures for offending.
"Over the past 12 months there has been a spike in youth offending concentrated mainly in Auckland, Hamilton, and Christchurch. Despite this the rates of youth offending are still significantly lower than they were a decade ago, and indeed prior to the pandemic in 2019, the rate of youth offending had decreased by 64%.
"I urge the government to rethink these measures. On 12 July there were 134 young people in youth justice residences in New Zealand. We don’t need to use a sledge hammer to crack a nut.”
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Editors note: The Judge's most recent statement on the future of Oranga Tamariki residences may be found here.
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Mana Mokopuna | Children and Young People's Commission