Principal Youth Court Judge hails youth offender report as blueprint for change

The study emphasises the role of early intervention in reducing young offenders

Principal Youth Court Judge hails youth offender report as blueprint for change

Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker has described a recent government report on youth offending as the “blueprint for change” that should involve all agencies and communities. The report, by justice sector science advisor Ian Lambie, calls for the adoption of a “developmental crime prevention” model.

Data showed that the number of offenders in the youth-justice system is decreasing –but the report said New Zealand nevertheless needs to prevent young people from engaging with the youth-justice system in the first place.

“With its focus on rehabilitation, reintegration and restorative justice, the report highlights that New Zealand has an innovative youth justice system that works well to address offending by people aged 14 to 17,” Walker said. “However, if we really want to be serious about getting to the root causes of youth crime, it shows we need to tackle those issues when they’re children, not when they turn up in the youth justice system at 14. Too often in the Youth Court we’re playing ‘catch up’, dealing with long standing issues that could have been addressed many years before.”

According to the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, a developmental approach focuses on both risk-creating and protective factors that have been shown to be associated with ending up in the criminal-justice system.

Risk factors include poverty, violence, childhood trauma, abuse and neglect, school failure, antisocial peers, parents in prison, undiagnosed mental and substance-use disorders, and lack of attachment to homes, communities, and people.

Protective factors include a safe place to live, trauma-informed care, support with mental health, literacy, learning support, and a network of people in the home and community for a sense of belonging.

“More than 40 years ago, New Zealand researchers’ world-leading longitudinal studies of cohorts in Dunedin and Christchurch clearly demonstrated the pathways that led from challenges in early life to young offending and on to adult prison,” Lambie said. “Research since that time has shown that the most effective – and cost-effective – way to reduce prison costs is to prevent kids getting into crime at the earliest opportunity.”

 

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