A Fresh Start for young offenders

  • Paula Bennett
Social Development and Employment

New Zealand's most serious and persistent young offenders are the target of proposed changes to the youth justice system, says the Minister of Social Development and Employment Paula Bennett.

The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Youth Courts Jurisdiction and Orders) Amendment Bill will be introduced to the House on February 18.

The Bill is aimed at the worst 1,000 youth offenders and contains three main reforms:

  • giving the Youth Court the power to issue a new range of compulsory orders including parenting, mentoring, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes,
  • extending the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to include 12 or 13 year olds accused of serious offences,
  • creating tougher, more effective sentences.

Residential sentences available to the Youth Court for young offenders would double to a maximum six months, followed by up to a year's supervision.  Supervision with Activity orders will also increase to a maximum of six months, followed by supervision of up to six months.  In this area, we anticipate a new range of programmes incorporating elements of military-style training.

The Youth Court will be able to order parents to take part in education programmes.   Young offenders who are - or are about to become - parents could also be required to participate in such programmes.

Repeat offenders and those who breach community orders may be subject to judicial monitoring, with the court able to ‘spotlight' certain elements of their sentence.  A small number of offenders may be monitored electronically.

A military-style activity camp programme would be developed to target the 40 most serious young offenders.  This programme would consist of up to three months residential training, using army-type facilities or training methods and provide clear boundaries, reinforcement of self-discipline, personal responsibility and community values.  It would be followed by up to nine months of intensive support to meet each young person's individual needs.

Ms Bennett says most young people who break the law are dealt with effectively.

"However, there's a small core of young people who have exhausted all of their options under the current system, or who are guilty of extremely violent crime"

"The impact of these 1,000 offenders on their victims can be far reaching.  We need to take action now to help them avoid a bleak feature.  We owe it to them and to the country."

Questions and Answers

A fresh start for young offenders - Youth Justice Reforms

Q. What is being introduced to deal with serious young offenders?

A. The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Youth Courts Jurisdiction and Orders) Amendment Bill includes the legislative change required to implement parts of the Fresh Start package announced last year.

  • giving Youth Courts more power to issue new orders that address parenting education, mentoring, and drug and alcohol treatment issues
  • creating longer sentences for the worst offenders, including longer Supervision with Activity and Supervision with Residence orders
  • empowering the Youth Court to deal with a small number of 12 and 13 year-olds charged with serious offences

Court-supervised programmes will hold young offenders to account for complying with their Family Group Court plans, more Youth Development Programmes, and an Innovation Fund to encourage communities to come up with new solutions to youth offending.

Q. When is this happening?

A. The new legislation will come into force no later than 1 October 2010.

Q. Why are the changes necessary?

A. The Government listened to Judges and Police and recognised that we need to improve and extend the current range of options for dealing with young offenders. Our care and protection and youth justice systems deal very well with most children and young people who break the law. For our most serious, recidivist offenders though, we need options that are stronger and more intensive. There are around 1,000 young offenders in this category.

Greater legislative flexibility and wider sentencing options will make a difference for this group, holding them to account while focusing on the underlying causes behind their offending.

Q. What is Fresh Start going to cost?

A. $84 million in funding has been secured over the next four years to extend programmes and bring in additional frontline staff. This includes $12.1m for the highly successful school holiday Breakaway Programmes and the Prime Minister's Youth Programme.

Q. Who will be targeted under these new reforms?

A. The reforms target a group of around 1,000 serious and persistent young offenders aged between 14 and 16. It also targets a group of around 40 12 and 13 year olds who are committing serious crimes such as burglary, and need interventions over and above those that can be delivered through the care and protection system.

Q. Which Youth Court Orders are being extended?

  • Supervision with Residence order - doubling the current maximum of three months in a residence followed by a maximum of six months supervision in the community to a new maximum of six months in a residence followed by up to 12 months supervision in the community.
  • Supervision with Activity order - being extended from the current maximum of three months on a specified activity programme, which may be followed by a maximum of three months supervision in the community, to a new maximum of six months activity, which may be followed by up to six months supervision.

In addition, judicial monitoring of conditions and a new intensive supervision order are being introduced to respond to those young offenders who are recidivist offenders and/or who breach the terms of their community-based sentences.

Q. Why are the lengths of orders being extended?

A. Experience shows us that some young people need a longer, more intensive intervention to turn their lives around. Research shows longer intervention programmes give young people essential ongoing support and treatment to be able to make a long-term positive change. Research also indicates that intensive programmes for young offenders work if they address the underlying causes of offending and incorporate therapeutic and educational interventions.

Q. With longer residential stays and additional places being created, where will young people be placed?

A. Child, Youth and Family are building a 30-bed youth justice facility in Rotorua, due to be completed by October 2010.

This development increases the total number of youth justice residential places from 110 to 140. These increases, coupled with a greater investment in supervision with activity, supported bail programmes and military-style activity camps, will provide enough placements to accommodate longer residential stays.

The supervision with activity programmes are increasing from 125 to 175 placements to take into account the longer supervision with activity orders, plus 40 MAC placements.

Q. Will these reforms mean more work for Child, Youth and Family staff?

A. Child, Youth and Family will recruit 40 more frontline staff to deliver and manage the additional work load resulting from the changes.

Q. What are the implications for 12 and 13 year olds?

A. The changes will affect only a very small number (around 40) of 12 and 13 year olds, and only those who are alleged to have committed very serious offences. By introducing a wide range of orders we are able to provide a package that will best meet their needs and are appropriate to their age. Our aim is to help them get their lives back on track at the earliest possible time.


Q. What are military-style activity camps?

A. Child, Youth and Family has worked with the New Zealand Defence Force to develop appropriate military-style residential programmes, targeting around 40 of the most serious and recidivist young offenders who are on their last chance with the Youth Court. The programmes will reinforce self-discipline, personal responsibility and community values while addressing the causes of offending with mentoring, literacy and numeracy skills and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Q Why have military-style camps?

A. This is about getting tough on crime. It's an option for around 40 of the most serious and recidivist young offenders who are on their last chance with the Youth Court, and who's offending sees them heading for the adult court system. It is the most intensive intervention available to the Youth Court, aimed at helping them get their lives back on track.

These camps draw on the experience and skills of the NZ Defence Force, who traditionally have succeeded in turning around the lives of young people through developing self discipline. These sorts of programmes will provide offenders with clear boundaries, and teach them about self-discipline, personal responsibility and community values.

Q. International research says old fashioned military-style camps don't work. So why are you going to do it?

A. Research shows programmes based on the reinforcement of self-discipline, personal responsibility and community values have more success when supported by therapeutic interventions.

These new military-style programmes are only the first step in providing our most serious and persistent young offenders with the most intensive interventions and support that will help them get their lives on track. The camps are not like the old sentence of corrective training. They are a modern innovation incorporating army style discipline with cognitive behaviour treatment from experts.

They'll be followed up with nine months of mentoring and measures to address the causes of the offending, with drug and alcohol treatment and basic education programmes. These things along with follow-up supervision will help reinforce and sustain the impact of their time at camp.

Q. What is a Supervision with Activity order?

A. Ordered by the Youth Court, these are where young offenders undergo structured activities programmes which address their offending while they are under intensive supervision. The activities could include military type training, numeracy and literacy, skills training, and mentoring.

Q. What is a Community Youth Programme?

A. Children and young people will participate in a mixture of activities that will help them to learn new skills and develop constructive interests. They are intended for children and young people yet to reach the formal youth court system but whose offending is causing concern.

This will include community-based youth development programmes, and may include intensive case management with children, young people and their families, and interventions to assist with reducing the risk factors associated with offending.

Mentoring will be a key component, so young people get the attention and guidance they need over a sustained period of time to help them get their lives on the right track. These programmes will help young people stay connected, build strengths and positive relationships, assist with reducing the likelihood of offending and increase their participation in their families, schools and communities.

Q. What is a Parenting Order?

A. Parents will be required to attend programmes to improve their parenting skills. Research shows that providing the parents of serious young offenders with training and support in parenting skills, and information about addressing risk factors such as drug involvement, school failure, anti-social peers and abuse at home helps reduce youth offending.

Where a young offender is, or is about to become, a parent, they may also be required to attend a parenting education course.

Q. What happens if a parent ordered to attend a programme doesn't?

A. The Youth Court will be able to refer his or her children for a care and protection family group conference. This means the care and protection of their child will be considered and recommendations around the best course of action for the wellbeing of the child will be made.

Q. Why is there a need for alcohol and drug programmes?

A. A large number of young offenders have problems with substance abuse. Access to programmes which assist in rehabilitating young offenders reduces offending, as well as improving the quality of life for the young person.

Q. What is an electronically monitored court order?

A. Where a young offender is subject to an intensive supervision order they may be placed on curfew for the duration of that order. Where the Youth Court thinks it is necessary to ensure compliance with the terms of the order, monitoring of the young offender's compliance with the conditions of curfew can be done electronically for a period of up to six months.

Q. What is the Innovation Fund?

A. The Innovation Fund will provide resources for communities to deliver their own promising solutions to local youth offending problems, and will target children and young people who are at risk of getting into a cycle of crime.

Access to the fund will be through the Ministry of Social Development. The Ministry is developing the process, and will ensure it enables innovative local providers of promising initiatives to access funding with a minimum of bureaucracy.

Q. How do these programmes address Māori offending?

A. Approximately half of serious young offenders are Māori. The Fresh Start approach recognises that "one-size-fits-all" is not the most effective way to respond to the individual needs and behaviours of young offenders.

Offender's plans will be based on an assessment of what is required to turn their lives around. This will require service providers to work together in providing a package which is designed for the young offender. This will often require iwi and Māori-based solutions for Māori children and young people.