Children under 14 caught doing ram raids will be given intensive support to steer them away from crime, towards study and work.
The move is part of a $53 million government package extending education and employment programmes to thousands more at-risk young people.
Watch Minister of Education and Police Chris Hipkins, and Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni make the announcement here:
Education and Police Minister Chris Hipkins said the package was a response to a rise in youth crime - particularly in Auckland.
"The government is investing heavily in programmes that create opportunities for young people to break the cycle of crime," he said in a statement.
"While youth crime is down on a decade ago, we're seeing a spike of young people, even children, putting themselves and others in harm's way through high-risk activities such as ram-raiding and smashing shops and we want that to stop.
"This package will help address complex and longer-term youth engagement issues that have been made more challenging by Covid-19. Frequent disruption has prevented some children and young people from accessing an education, while others are still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic on them and their families."
In a media conference after the announcement, Hipkins said the point was to have fewer young people getting into trouble in the first place than having to deal with the consequences of their offending after the fact.
"These are all programmes that are run in the community that have got proven results, we know they work, and we know that if we put a bit more support behind them, they can actually keep more young people out of trouble."
There would be a focus on those most likely to be repeat offenders, he said.
"What we don't want to do with those young people is write them off and push them into a pathway that leads to more serious future offending."
Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni said community providers were already entrenched in the relevant communities and often knew many of the whānau that were the focus of the announcements.
Both ministers rejected suggestions the announcement had been slow to come.
"We do need to keep in mind these programmes were already in place," Sepuloni said, adding that the programmes needed the extra funding to address current challenges.
"Engagement with the community isn't starting today, or didn't start four months ago, the cross agency efforts and the work with the community providers has been particularly prevalent because of what's been happening during Covid so these community providers and government agencies are well-versed in working together and have been doing so."
And with the providers being local, it meant they were more likely to have a handle of the specific issues in their area and be culturally appropriate, Hipkins said.
What the package includes
- Children in Counties Manukau caught in ram raids are already being referred to the Social Wellbeing Board - a cross agency team including police and social workers - and that's now being extended to West Auckland.
- Youth Guarantee Programme which allows some 16-19-year-olds to participate in some courses free of charge extended to support up to 1100 more participants
- He Poutama Rangatahi youth employment scheme extended to support around 1400 more rangatahi
- Ākonga Fund extended to the end of 2023 to support up to 2750 additional young people and their whānau
- 232 families with children set to benefit from the scaling up of the family functional therapy, intensive mentoring and community-led youth inclusion programmes
Facing the consequences
Punishing young people through the justice system usually set them up for a life of crime, and preventing youth crime was important to preventing gang membership, Hipkins said.
The 'Better Pathways' package was a second chance for those who deserved it, he said.
"Part of this package is designed to help keep young people out of the justice system where police and partner agencies believe this approach is warranted.
"But I want to be clear, young offenders committing serious crimes will continue to be dealt with seriously. This is about a second chance for those that merit it; it's not a free pass," Hipkins said.
But harsher punishment was not proving to be a deterrent for these young people, he said.
"In many cases, the harsher the punishment, the more glory and notoriety they're getting out of it so that's not going to work. What we've got to do is actually get under the causes of their offending and make sure we're getting them back on the straight and narrow."
It was about maintaining a balancing act between holding serious offenders to account but also trying to prevent people being drawn into the cycle of crime, he said.
"There are some people who are around the periphery who are being drawn into offending because they're not engaged constructively in other things, they're not engaged in education, they're not engaged in employment, if we can get them off the streets doing something positive then actually there are going to be fewer victims than in the first place."
Education and opportunities
Polytechs, private training establishments, and wānanga would be helping at-risk people, who have little or no formal education, get into a foundation level programme, Hipkins said.
Having that foundations would provide them with further opportunities in training or employment, he said.
"Most of these young offenders, almost all of these young offenders, have some prior interaction with government, before they end up on the pathway that's leading them to more serious offending.
"So they've already come to our attention, we already know that they're there, we already know they're at risk of getting into trouble, what we want to do is make sure we can get them more proactively connected with the sorts of things that can get them out of trouble."
On young people who face exclusion due to learning difficulties, Hipkins said there was support being put into place for schools, including have extra learning support co-ordinators and extra specialists.
But there was no doubt more would be needed, he said.
"Every single budget that we have passed as a government has involved significant increases in learning support for the most disadvantaged learners in our schools and I can confidently say we'll continue to do that because there is a huge legacy here; this has been an area that as a country we've underinvested in for probably 20 or 30 years, it's not something you solve overnight."
Support for businesses
Victims of ram raids would continue to receive support too, Hipkins said.
"We've got police out there visiting those businesses to help them take more preventative measures and, of course, there are young people being arrested and prosecuted for the offences they have been engaged in."
Police would continue to proactively follow up all incidents to make sure they bring people to account, he said.
The minister expects business assessments under the $6 million crime prevention programme to be ramped up over the next few weeks.
In August, RNZ reported only five stores across Tāmaki Makaurau had received security upgrades under the fund.
Hipkins said they were trying to deal with supply chain issues and any consent issues - although he thanked Auckland Council for being proactive.
"I've absolutely made it clear to the police that I want them to be really speeding that [assessments process] up so that businesses are getting that extra support."