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Will the Government’s new $53m youth crime package actually work?

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Several youths were arrested following a fleeing driver incident that saw them travel through several Suburbs. Video / Hayden Woodward

The Government is lauding its new $53 million plan to tackle the current youth crime spike that is prompting calls for harsher consequences for persistent offenders.

But with the complex task of unpicking entrenched social issues to address the root of offending, will it affect real change?

The package, called Better Pathways, included $23m for the Youth Guarantee programme that supported 16 to 24-year-olds with low or no qualifications to re-engage with education or get into employment.

Almost $5m would extend the Ākonga Fund to the end of next year to support ākonga/learners (aged 12 to 21 years old), who had been adversely affected by the impact of Covid-19 to stay with education.

Over three years, $23m would enhance the He Poutama Rangatahi initiative that focused on young people at risk of, or already participating in, youth or organised crime.

Almost $2.5m would be tagged with the purpose of supporting 232 families with children most at risk, through various programmes.

Another $600,000 – along with funding pivoted from initiatives with similar purposes – was pledged to Kotahi te Whakaaro, a joint agency response to young people involved in crime in South Auckland.

The approach, created by the South Auckland Social Wellbeing Board, brought together members of police, Oranga Tamariki, Counties Manukau Health, education, Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Social Development, local non-government agencies and Te Iwi o Ngāti Kahu to review cases of youth offenders caught in the preceding 24 hours.

The funding boost would ensure efforts were maintained in South Auckland, but also allowed the approach to be rolled out in West Auckland – another hotspot for youth crime.

Businesses across the country, but primarily in Auckland, are being hit by youths committing ram raids. Photo / Supplied
Businesses across the country, but primarily in Auckland, are being hit by youths committing ram raids. Photo / Supplied

Designed as a timely response to vehicle-related offending among young people, the group focused on children under 14 who were apprehended for serious offences such as fleeing police or ram raiding.

In the last four months, the approach had led to only 13 of 52 children reoffending and just four new reports of concern from Oranga Tamariki.

Six had been supported back into education. Only 19 were in education to start with.

Of the 52, 50 had been exposed to family harm – some experiencing as many as 30 incidents.

Board programme director Ann Wilkie, also an Inspector with Counties Manukau police, had not been surprised by that statistic, given her experience with family violence and child protection.

However, she was optimistic further funding for the approach would lead to positive results.

“This additional money is going to be an important aspect of supporting the community to be actually part of the work that needs to be done,” she told the Herald.

“In the short term, it’s certainly an approach that we were able to prove without additional funding and now the additional funding will make it more sustainable.”

A key priority of Kotahi te Whakaaro was to widen their view from solely focusing on the offender and examining what support was required by the whānau unit.

“If we can stop the siblings from going down the same path and we can stop these [offenders] and give them a second chance and they don’t enter the youth justice system, then we know we’re on a winning formula,” Wilkie said.

Act Party leader David Seymour is calling for all serious youth offenders to be given ankle bracelets to reduce reoffending. Photo / Marty Melville
Act Party leader David Seymour is calling for all serious youth offenders to be given ankle bracelets to reduce reoffending. Photo / Marty Melville

Crucial for success was effective collaboration and flexibility, something government agencies sometimes struggled with, Wilkie noted.

“If you can’t get government agencies working nicely together with the community and iwi, then you’re actually wasting your time.”

With existing connections between agencies in West Auckland, Wilkie was confident it was an appropriate area in which to implement the approach.

Amid a more than 500 per cent increase in ram raids over recent years and 357 having taken place this year alone, the National Party has repeatedly called for tougher penalties for repeat offenders.

The Act Party today proposed giving all serious youth offenders ankle bracelets to curb their behaviour.

“Ankle bracelets are non-intrusive and allow the police to know where they are at all times,” Act leader David Seymour said.

“It is an easy way to enforce curfew, to make sure kids are at school and to separate young offenders.”

Wilkie said it wasn’t important what party’s policy was used – as long as it understood the need for a multi-faceted response.

She cited one offender that had been picked up by other youths who then went on to commit a ram raid, despite her having no intention to do so.

“We’ve got to remember not all kids are setting out to create carnage, some are just swept up by what’s going on.”



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