4 Jun 2024

Youth offending increased in year ending June 2023 - Ministry of Justice

7:32 pm on 4 June 2024
A pair of hands in cuffs.

A Ministry of Justice report says youth crime is trending upwards, but has more than halved in the past decade. Photo: 123RF

More young people are committing crimes, many for the first time.

A Ministry of Justice report released today reveals that in the year ending June 2023, theft was the most common offence, followed by causing injury, and burglary.

It found 877 14- to 16-year-olds faced police action for serious and persistent offending, an annual increase of 26 percent.

The proportion of youth facing serious action, like court proceedings, also increased slightly - from nine to 10 percent of 10- to 13-year-olds, and 28 to 31 percent of 14- to 16-year-olds.

The report says youth crime is trending upwards, but has more than halved in the past decade.

The report also shows that police are taking proceedings against tamariki and rangitahi Māori at more than two times the rate of other children and young people.

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith told Checkpoint Māori were over-represented in the adult justice system and it was also the case with young people.

It was a long-standing issue that the government was trying to change, he said.

"Part of that is around dealing with the short-term consequences which is having clearer consequences for crime and secondly is having some more options available which is talking about the young serious offender category and the military academies.

"But also looking at the longer term issues that we've got to deal with, you know we've got so many young people who are not at school and the truancy issue is a massive problem, particularly for young Māori students."

National Party MP Paul Goldsmith

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith says Māori adults and youth are over-represented in the justice system. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

There was also a failure in housing policy with thousands of children in motels used as emergency housing, he said.

The figures were from June last year and showed an increase in youth offending in the last year, he said.

"[It was] exemplified by the ram raids by the 13, 14, 15-year-old ram raiders and we need a better solution."

The report also revealed the two-year reoffending rate for 10- to 13-year-old children who were dealt with outside the formal justice system increased from 36 to 40 percent.

However, Goldsmith said the government would not be putting offenders of this age into boot camps, and would instead take a separate approach.

"That may well be drawing in their parents into understanding what's going on ... it may well lead to more significant consequences for those young people as part of the mix, and then the broader issue is around dealing with those drivers around truancy, around poor housing situations, around addictions."

The government's boot camps will be aimed at 15- to 17-year-old serious and repeat offenders, but the report indicated two-year reoffending rates for those of a similar age (14-17), who were dealt with outside the formal justice system, only increased by one percent.

Youth offending rates would drop once there were clearer consequences for crime, he said.

Asked why boot camps were necessary when youth crime was trending downwards over the long-term, Goldsmith said that that vast majority of young people did not go anywhere near the justice system.

And for most of those young people who do end up in the justice system "a light touch approach works", he said.

"I think what everybody recognises is that there's a very small group of serious repeat youth offenders and at the moment the system just revolves them around and around, around and around, we'll see you again next weekend when you do the same thing."

There had been wrap-around family services for repeat serious youth offenders for the last few years and "it doesn't work for that small category all the time," he said.

For this group more options, such as the military academy, were needed, he said.

"It's not an easy issue to deal with but at the moment what's been the case of just endless family conferences and pats on the head hasn't worked."

The consequences needed to be ramped up for that young serious offender category, he said.

The report noted that although youth crime was trending upwards, it had more than halved in the past decade.

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