Election 2023: Bay of Plenty youth support workers question Act’s new youth crime policy

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Act Party leader David Seymour with Act List MP Nicole McKee at a public meeting in Tauranga on June 9 to announce a new Act policy. Photo / Michaela Pointon

A Bay of Plenty youth support worker says Act’s new policy to revert the age people are dealt with in the adult justice system from 18 to 17 will only “exaggerate and increase [the] prison population”.

Another says they have a responsibility “to get it right with our kids”, and “good guidance” rather than punishment was the way forward.

The comments come after Act leader David Seymour announced the new policy at a public meeting attended by more than 400 people at Classic Flyers Aviation Museum in Mount Maunganui on Sunday.

The policy would see 17-year-olds dealt with in the adult court system, in District Courts and High Courts as opposed to Youth Courts, but not generally sent to adult prisons.

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Seymour said Tauranga was one of the “worst-hit” areas by youth crime in the country and hoped the new policy would put the “responsibility on to offenders”.

Speaking to the Bay of Plenty Times after the event, Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust executive director Tommy Wilson said, in his opinion, the new policy would not work.

Putting tamariki [children] into grown-up concrete cages will only exaggerate and increase [the] prison population we are seeing today,” he said.

“What we do in our youth justice houses works.”

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Wilson said reconnecting youth to a place where they belong can “reconnect the disconnected [and] give them a place to stand”.

Pūwhakamua rehabilitation programme founder Billy Macfarlane said he was concerned about the adult justice system failing Māori in particular.

Macfarlane said “punishment and rehabilitation don’t ever meet up”, which created anger toward the justice system.

Act Party leader David Seymour with Act List MP Nicole McKee at a public meeting in Tauranga on June 9 to announce a new Act policy. Photo / Michaela Pointon
Act Party leader David Seymour with Act List MP Nicole McKee at a public meeting in Tauranga on June 9 to announce a new Act policy. Photo / Michaela Pointon

“Māori are our leaders for tomorrow. We have the responsibility to get it right with our kids.”

He said there was “a lot of hope” working with young people aged 18 to 25.

“A lot of them want to be better. A lot of them want to be around good leadership.”

Macfarlane said focusing on giving children a path of confidence and “good guidance” rather than punishment was the way forward.

He said there were many factors that contributed to why a young person might commit a crime, such as having no parental role model, a lack of literacy, abuse and peer friendship circles, and punishing 17-year-olds would only create further social issues.

In response to the concerns raised, Seymour said he admired the work done by Macfarlane.

He said Act’s policy would establish a youth wing of corrections focused on rehabilitation.

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“We have costed this in our alternative budget for 200 beds.

He said Act’s Corrections youth wing beds would not be part of Oranga Tamariki.

“They would be secure, and the worst youth offenders would find they couldn’t leave, had no phone, and not much fun. They would, however, work to learn and improve themselves before release.”

He said while working with offenders was important Act’s “primary concern is not the people doing the crime, it is the people who follow the law and have a right to be safe in their homes, workplaces, and cities”.

At Friday’s public meeting, Seymour said Tauranga had been hit “badly” by crime.

“Tauranga is a place where, as much as anywhere, people deserve to be safe. [It’s] probably one of the worst-hit cities in New Zealand.”

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Seymour said the announcement of the new policy was going to put the “responsibility on to offenders”.

“Every other announcement for the last decade has been about: if we treat the offenders kindly, maybe they’ll be kind back. That’s failed.”

The public Act Party meeting held at the Classic Flyers and Aviation Museum in Tauranga on June 9. Photo / Michaela Pointon
The public Act Party meeting held at the Classic Flyers and Aviation Museum in Tauranga on June 9. Photo / Michaela Pointon

In 2016, a National-Act government took 17-year-olds out of the adult justice system. Act supported that legislation as part of a wider confidence and supply agreement.

Seymour said reversing this policy and addressing 17-year-olds under the adult judicial system was accepting the policy had not worked.

“We have to recognise the promises of taking 17-year-olds out of youth justice haven’t been kept serious. Violent offenders are not going to adult court as was promised.”

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Act List MP Nicole McKee, who was also at the event, said crimes committed by 17-year-olds of an “adult nature” should be treated as such.

“We need to have escalation for our youth so they understand the severity of consequences when they commit crime.”

McKee said the new policy would allow small businesses in the Bay of Plenty to see Act “takes crime seriously”.

Michaela Pointon is an NZME reporter based in the Bay of Plenty and was formerly a feature writer.



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