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Raise the age of youth justice to 18 years

Wednesday, June 08, 2016   Posted in: Resources and Information By: Administrator With tags: youth, law, justice

Organisations and experts from across the youth, justice and disability sectors have joined together to call on the government to raise the age of youth justice in Aotearoa.

Cabinet will decide whether to include 17 year olds in the youth justice system in July 2016. This was a key recommendation of the government-appointed Expert Panel on the modernisation of Child, Youth and Family. The report stated that: “Children and young people would be considered children and young people first and foremost, rather than offenders and this would drive the nature of professional practice.”

The government have accepted the Expert Panel’s recommendation to raise the age of care to 18, with additional support into the 20s, but are yet to agree to raise the age of youth justice.

Get the facts on including 17 year olds in the youth justice system (Just Speak).

Director of JustSpeak Katie Bruce. says “We can’t separate the two. We are talking, far too often, about the same young people”. Up to 80 percent of young people appearing in Youth Court have been subject to a Child, Youth and Family notification. “Young people need consistency in the way that we support them to have bright futures as adults, both in care and protection and youth justice. We need to raise the age of youth justice to 18, with additional provisions to bring older young people into the youth justice system where we can”.

Our youth justice system models a pioneering response for those with neurodisabilities, as highlighted in the recent "Neurodisability in the Youth Justice System" report. We are only just starting to understand the extent of young people with neurodisabilities in our criminal justice system, such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. It is estimated that 60 to 90 percent of young people in the justice system have a communication disorder. Young people with neurodisabilities are obvious candidates to access the youth justice system in their late teens and even early twenties.

Ministers may be concerned that the Youth Justice system is a soft option. “The public can be reassured,” says Senior Law Lecturer at Victoria University Dr Nessa Lynch. “Top-end offending, such as homicide, will continue to be dealt with through the adult justice system while the minor and moderate offending which makes up the majority of offending committed by 17 year olds, will receive a speedy and evidence-based response that holds the young person accountable while addressing the problems that led them to the situation”.

Those of us across the social sector say there is nothing soft about reducing future crime, respecting victims and holding young people to account in a way that addresses the causes of their offending. Thousands of young people, victims and whānau would benefit every year, especially young Māori, who are grossly over-represented in the criminal justice system.

“We now know that our brains continue to develop throughout adolescence and into early adulthood” says Brainwave Executive Director Sue Wright. “This means our ability to plan and think through the consequences of our actions is still maturing until we are in our early 20s. In men this is nearer to 25 years old. As we gain understanding of adolescent brain development we now know that risk taking and impulsive behaviour are a normal part of this maturation process. This can, at times, lead to behaviours which put the adolescent at risk of making poor decisions. While this does not justify breaking the law, it is clear that young people need scaffolding and appropriate adult support through these years to learn to manage the consequences of their behaviour.”

Our Youth Justice system was pioneering and praised around the world. But we’re now trailing European countries and almost all American and Australian states by classing 17 year olds as adults. New York plans to increase the age to 24 because there is such strong evidence about the social and financial benefits of a youth justice system, along with emerging brain science. It’s time for us to extend our world-leading system to all young people.

Healthy Christchurch Champions

  • Canterbury District Health Board
  • Christchurch City Council
  • Environment Canterbury
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ngai Tahu
  • NZ Police
  • Pegasus Health
  • University of Otago, Christchurch