This week Labour announced a proposal to change the law. There would be a new offence of what is colloquially known as ram raiding and the law would be tweaked so that 12 and 13 year olds charged with this new offence would have to appear in court.
And also this week they announced there would be two new youth justice prisons built. I won’t go into detail about their third announcement that did not go so well.
I have some experience in the area. I have worked as a lawyer representing young people in the current system since 1989. I am well aware of the intricacies.
The announcement would mean that more twelve and thirteen year olds could appear in the Youth Court and be subject to Youth Court sanctions, like being subject to electronically monitored bail or Supervision with Residence, which can be a six month incarceration sentence in a youth detention facility.
The justification is that there are some really tough twelve and thirteen year olds and that stronger responses are needed. Like the ability to put them on EM bail and if necessary detain them.
The problem with the analysis is that it is a bit simplistic. Twelve and thirteen year olds charged with aggravated robbery or aggravated burglary can appear in Youth Court now. An aggravated burglary involves committing a burglary while in possession of a weapon, something that often happens during ram raids.
And the really tough youths that Hipkins talked about often already have care and protection status with Oranga Tamariki. If there is an existing Family Court custody order then they can be placed in an appropriate youth detention centre without the need for Youth Court proceedings.
Hipkins was right to talk about how for 80% of young people recent Government’s reforms are working. The wrap around service is having a meaningful effect. From the Beehive this press release from April this year has the details:
“Of the 147 children engaged in the Government’s Kotahi te Whakaaro programme only 27 have reoffended,” Minister for Social Development and Employment Carmel Sepuloni said.
“The programme has also supported 373 siblings and wider family members, ensuring we are turning the lives around of some of our most vulnerable young people.
“Alongside these actions we have seen a drop in the number of reported ram raid incidents. In August 2022, there were 116 reported ram raids. Six months after the expansion of Kotahi te Whakaaro there were 40.
And Kelvin Davis is quoted as saying this:
“Locking up children under the age of 15 does not work in the overwhelming number of cases, it just creates more hardened criminals who will reoffend once they are released from custody. We need intensive interventions that address the causes of offending and what we are doing is working,”
The kids for who the reforms did not work are a tough bunch. But for this group my view is that existing laws may provide sufficient power. Having to contemplate the jailing of twelve and thirteen year olds for burglary is a really hard proposition for me to accept. Because essentially they are still kids.
There are many common features of this group. The effects of the generational poverty caused by Ruth Richardson’s mother of all budgets and Rogernomics is still clear. These kids live in substandard homes, their health and their ability to learn is too often severely compromised, there are drug issues and mental health issues the family is too often grappling with, and diagnoses of ADHD or FASD are very common.
If you want to do something for them then focus on their needs when they are two. Waiting until they are twelve before doing something is too late.
No doubt Sunny Kaushal, who for years wanted to be a Labour MP but more recently has become really retrograde with his commentary about youth crime and dairy owners will disagree. I would not be surprised in the slightest if he pops up on National’s list in a prominent position.
But Hipkins’ tack to the centre looking for a political solution that ignores the social and humanitarian reality causes me some concern.
If Hipkins could be accused of applying a political lens to issues involving crime National this week has unashamedly chose to use the recent Auckland’s mass shooting incident to politicise law and order in an egregious manner.
On the day of the Auckland shooting Christopher Luxon declared that it was not a day for politics, then in the same breath rolled out National’s law and order policies. I am sure you know what they are, backing the police, tackling gangs, making sure there are serious consequences and ensuring we have stronger sentences. His pledge to not politicise the day lasted about five seconds.
And yesterday he asked why the shooter was not in prison. I doubt that he bothered to learn of the background of the shooter. This Stuff article provides some detail.
The shooter did not have a long list of previous convictions but there were questions about his mental health. The offending was bad but the complainant wanted him treated mercifully. A cultural report prepared for his earlier sentencing said that he suffered from systemic deprivation, a disconnection from his culture, a history of family instability and hardship and he had been exposed to domestic violence and abuse as a young person. He had spent time living in the street. As the Judge said many young men with that sort of background appear in court.
This reinforces the need to deal with poverty. Sure it is easy to get upset with offending and demand retribution but if as a society we want to improve things then long term fundamental change is required.
Unfortunately meaningful discussion about laura norda gets drowned out by the need to be tough on crime. It looks like this is not going to change soon, especially during this election campaign.