Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins says the Government is taking further steps to strengthen the youth justice system, announcing two new high needs units will be built and new legislation introduced to make residences safer and more secure.
“When a young person is sent to a youth justice facility by the Court the public have an expectation that they will not only be held accountable for crimes such as ram raids but also receive the rehabilitation they need,” Mr Hipkins said.
“Youth Justice residences need to be secure, safe places and it has become clear that the introduction of 17-year-olds into the system has created challenges and we need to do things differently.
“So today, I’m announcing the Government will start work towards building two new youth justice units to cater for up to 30 higher needs youth. The units will aim to provide more intensive support for the most serious offending and will predominantly cater for older teenagers.
“There is a big difference between a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old and what support and guidance they need. I want to see these new units designed with the best-possible rehabilitation models in mind for these offenders,” Chris Hipkins said.
Minister for Children, Kelvin Davis said new changes to legislation would also be introduced to allow for staff, visitors, and young people to be searched in a non-invasive manner when entering the premises.
The ability to place young people in secure care when it is believed a mass disorder event is imminent will also be a new tool available to staff.
“Over the past six months we have seen an increase in unacceptable behaviour in youth justice residences, such as damage to facilities and roof stand-offs,” Mr Davis said.
“That is simply not good enough and along with the immediate strengthening of these facilities staff need to be able to stop these types of events when they know something is brewing.
“It is equally unacceptable that there is little ability to search someone, whether they be staff, visitors, or the young people themselves when they enter a residence.
“This will be an important change to reduce any contraband and weapons entering, and I expect it to be done in the least-invasive way possible – more akin to passing through a metal detector at airport security.”
While residences need to be safe and secure, it is also clear that the best way to both reduce victimisation and break the cycle for a young person is to wrap around them and their family early.
Mr Davis said Oranga Tamariki Family Group Conferences (FGC) will see the benefit of additional resources with an extra $1 million going towards new family group coordinators who, for the first time, will be specifically focused on youth crime issues.
Family Group Conferences are formal meetings where the family comes together with professionals to talk about concerns Oranga Tamariki may hold for a child.
Additionally, Police and Oranga Tamariki have also agreed to develop a protocol that will streamline the process of referring a young person to a FGC when warranted and to respond quicker when a young person has breached a Family Court order.
“We know that these processes often reduce the chances of a young person reoffending and that’s what we know the general public want,” the Minister said.
“When the Family Court has granted custody and support orders for these young people that include conditions to manage the risk of re-offending, we need to respond quicker to any sign that is happening – these protocols will do that.
“Making sure Police and Oranga Tamariki work together and have a clear process for when someone should or shouldn’t be referred to a FGC will help speed up the system and lead to better results for everyone.”