(Picture caption: High rates of youth crime in New Zealand has led to increased investment into programmes which create opportunities for youth. PHOTO: Supplied.)
With youth crime currently in the spotlight, particularly in Auckland, the New Zealand Government is investing heavily in programmes that create opportunities for young people to break the cycle of crime.
Education and Police Minister Hon Chris Hipkins says while youth crime is down from one decade ago, New Zealand is 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.
Punishing young people through the criminal justice system can set them up for a life of adult crime.
Insights from the Social Wellbeing Agency show preventing youth crime is important to preventing gang membership for young people.
Based on 2000 young people in their early 20s who are currently on Corrections’ gang member list, they found that 100 percent of the cohort had contact with the Police and were reported as offenders one or more times across their lives.
“Instead, we’re ramping up our investment in young people to create even more opportunities for them to earn and learn,” Minister Hipkins says.
“We want to provide every young New Zealander with the chance to succeed, and to do that, we have identified youth focused programmes working already in the community and investing heavily to scale them up.”
The package will also help address complex and longer-term youth engagement issues that have been made more challenging by COVID-19, such as accessing an education, and the impacts inflicted on them and their families.
Extending the Ākonga fund is the first step - 2,663 young people have exited an Ākonga Fund programme and achieved an education, training or employment outcome and this extension will give an additional 2,750 young people the opportunity to get back on the right track, Minister Hipkins adds.
“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.”
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says the South Auckland Social Wellbeing Board’s Kotahi te Whakaaro approach is already paying dividends and is pleased to announce it is extending to West Auckland.
“Over the past four months all children under the age of 14 who were apprehended due to a fleeing driver, ram raid or other serious offending in Counties Manukau have been referred to the board,” Minister Sepuloni says.
“They can provide wrap-around support and refer them to other programmes in order to steer them away from crime, and as a result three quarters have not reoffended.”
Minister Sepuloni says the success of this initiative in South Auckland is the reason why it is being extended into West Auckland where a cross-agency team involving government agencies like Ministry of Social Development, Police and Oranga Tamariki, as well as local NGOs, respond directly to the needs of the children and young people who have offended.
“Through this approach they are tackling family harm and violence in the home, working with schools on responses to psychological distress and trauma experienced by children, and embedding engagement with iwi into their mahi.”
The package also sees an extension to He Poutama Rangatahi, another employment, education and training programme that has proven to work.
“Having supported over 3,500 people already, He Poutama Rangatahi will continue to have a critical role to play in working with young people at risk of participating, or already participating, in youth crime, and on reducing involvement with gangs,” Minister Sepuloni continues.
“We have chosen to back solutions and build on what is working for young people right now.
“It means we can tackle youth crime by getting those who have already offended or are at risk of offending the support they need, while also ensuring these successful approaches are embedded in the way government does things in the long term, so we can make changes for the better.”