The Government has announced a ‘Better Pathways’ package that aims to drive down youth crime by placing more young people in education, training or jobs.
Education and Police Minister, Chris Hipkins says the Government is investing heavily in programmes that create opportunities for young people to break the cycle of crime.
“Youth crime is clearly an issue right now, particularly in Auckland,” the Minister said.
“While youth crime is down on a decade ago, we’re 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 and we want that to stop.”
Punishing young people through the criminal justice system more often than not sets them up for a life of adult crime, said Minister Hipkins.
Insights from the Social Wellbeing Agency show that preventing youth crime is important to preventing gang membership for young people. Based on the experiences of 2,000 young people who are currently on Corrections’ gang member list, it found that 100% of the cohort had contact with the Police and were reported as offenders one or more times across their lives.
“We want to provide every young New Zealander with the chance to succeed. To do that we’ve identified youth focused programmes that are working already out in the community, and investing heavily to scale them up,” said Mr Hipkins.
“This package will help address complex and longer-term youth engagement issues that have been made more challenging by COVID-19. Frequent disruption has prevented some children and young people from accessing an education, while others are still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic on them and their families.
“Extending the Ākonga fund is an obvious step we can take. 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 said, however, the program was about a second chance for those that merit it – it’s not a “free pass”.
“I want to be clear, young offenders committing serious crimes will continue to be dealt with seriously,” he said.
Social Development Minister, Carmel Sepuloni said the South Auckland Social Wellbeing Board’s ‘Kotahi te Whakaaro’ approach was already paying dividends.
“Over the past four months all children under the age of 14 who were apprehended as a result of a fleeing driver or ram raid or other serious offending in Counties Manukau have been referred to the board who can provide wrap-around support and refer them on to other programmes in order to steer them away from crime. As a result three quarters have not reoffended,” Minister Sepuloni said.
“The success of this initiative in South Auckland is why we are extending it into West Auckland where a cross-agency team involving government agencies like MSD, 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,” she said.
The package also sees an extension to He Poutama Rangatahi, another successful employment, education and training programme.
“Ensuring our children and young people have access to pathways into employment, education and training remains a priority for our Government. This extends to those who may need a little bit more support to get back on the right track, and He Poutama Rangatahi has proven to be a successful programme that breaks down barriers to work for some of our hardest to reach young people,” Minister Sepuloni said.
“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.
“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,” she said.