Play examines realities of youth in adult justice system

Play examines realities of youth in adult justice system

Youth justice is being put under the spotlight in a new stage show by a group of Massey University students.

The production comes at a time when the Government considering whether or not to raise the age of New Zealand's Youth Court jurisdiction.

JustUs is the story of two brothers -- one 16, and one 17.

Both get caught for the same crime but they have vastly different experiences as one goes to Youth Court, and the other to the District Court.

"You've got the younger guy, who gets completely reintegrated back into society, gets all the support," says cast member Andrew Broadley.

"Then someone nine months older is just kind of thrown to the dogs."

JustUs has been created by students from Massey University's Creativity in the Community group.

It's pitched as the story of what it really means to put a child through the adult criminal justice system.

"The purpose of the play is actually to say it's more than statistics, it's more than numbers, when you see the stories behind the difference between a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old," says Just Speak chair Julia Whaipooti.

Much of the dialogue has been taken from direct interviews the students had with youth offenders and the community workers who support them.

The show is timely, with the Government considering raising the age of New Zealand's Youth Court jurisdiction cut-off from 17 to 18.

"I think they would be going against their own advice, the evidence, the views of the sector and I think public opinion as well, if they refused to raise the age," says Dr Nessa Lynch, a law lecturer at Victoria University.

Studies show those put through the adult system re-offend at a much higher rate than those who deal with youth court. That's likely because the youth system offers much more support in terms of reintegration and accountability.

"It's not being soft on crime, it's resulting in tangible results that are to the benefit of our community," says Professor Chris Galavin, Massey University Deputy Pro Vice chancellor.

"And for 17-year-olds -- I think it's too young to be involved in the criminal justice system."

Criminal Justice advocacy group Just Speak says reform makes fiscal sense and more importantly, it would stop thousands of young Kiwis heading towards a life of incarceration.