Join calls for care over criminalisation in New Zealand’s youth justice system

“Child offending does not occur in a vacuum but, in the vast majority of cases, was preceded by significant child welfare concerns. IDI data showed very high levels of abuse, reports of concern to Oranga Tamariki, out-of-home placements, stand-downs and suspensions from school, and indicators of social deprivation among children who offended.”  – Lambie, 2022

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One of the most important reasons why children end up in youth justice facilities is the lack of adequate support for families and caregivers.

Support and effective cooperation between parents, child welfare and social protection services, education, health, law enforcement and justice systems would prevent children from being placed in institutions and coming into conflict with the law. This is one of the reasons why we’re concerned about the Ram Raid Offending and Related Measures Amendment Bill, and have supported a joint submission and open letter to urge Members of Parliament to instead support evidence-based and children’s rights based solutions, over criminalising children.

It’s not too late to take action. Read the open letter to learn more and add your name today.

Understanding the issues

New Zealand, like many countries, has witnessed the rise of a “tough on crime” narrative. This narrative has generated fear within our communities and has sometimes obscured genuine solutions for keeping our communities safe. 

The Ram Raid bill reflects this rhetoric, but not necessarily the reality of youth offending in New Zealand. The Ram Raid bill has several contravening factors, such as the making the criminal age of responsibility too low at 12 and 13, despite evidence that children’s brains are still developing at this age and evidence suggesting the minimum age of criminal responsibilities should be least 14-years-old. Furthermore, statistics show that youth offending is actually on the decline. For example, the number of 10-13 year-olds coming into contact with the police has decreased significantly over the past decade. Ram raid incidents have been steadily decreasing since a peak in August 2022 and earlier this year, the Government reported a 65% decrease in Ram Raids over six months.  

These statistics challenge the need for a punitive approach, especially when programmes like Kotahi te Whakaaro, an early intervention programme which helps address root causes of offending, has reported that 82 Percent of children referred to them  have not reoffended.

Comparatively, research also shows the harsher punishments the Bill proposes are not an effective deterrent. Instead, we believe solutions should be instead grounded in children’s rights and effective evidence-based alternatives. 

Our recommendations for improving youth justice systems

As a global alliance, Family for Every Child works to support local, national and global efforts to reduce the number of children held in places of detention, encourage non-custodial solutions, champion resource investment to reduce inequalities and support families, and address the pathways leading to the detention of children in a systemic and holistic way. Our recommendations for improving justice systems include:

Supporting prevention by providing better support to families and caregivers: Support and effective cooperation between parents, child welfare and social protection services, education, health, law enforcement and justice systems would prevent children from being placed in institutions and coming into conflict with the law.

Working in partnership with children: Bring about genuine justice with and for children by working hand and in hand with them, particularly those with lived experience, as experts and central players in the pursuit of positive change to achieve equal, non-discriminatory and inclusive access to justice for all children

Ensuring fair and equal access to justice for all children: especially those from marginalised groups. This means making legal processes suitable for children, creating community-based services instead of detention, and collecting data to understand and address the reasons behind unequal treatment in the justice system to prevent overrepresentation of minority and marginalised children.

Ensuring child-friendly justice for all children in contact with the law by:

  • Improving coordination among various sectors and actors to minimise unnecessary contact between children and the justice system.
  • Providing child-friendly, inclusive and contextually-responsive justice and social services; 
  • Ensuring accessible mental health and psychosocial support; 
  • Implementing early intervention programmes, comprehensive family support, and community building to prevent children from entering the justice system, to minimise the risk of offending, and ensure violence-free childhoods.
  • Prioritising restorative justice, diversion, rehabilitation, and reintegration for all children in contact with the law
  •  Decriminalising child behaviour that should and can be more effectively addressed by child protection, social protection, healthcare, and mental health support systems, among others. 

You can learn more about Family’s position here.