Youth crime rates decline

  • 19/04/2018

Youth offending is on the decline, but an advocacy group warns there's still plenty of work to be done for Māori and Pasifika children.

The Youth Justice Indicators report found the rate of offending has fallen 63 percent in the last eight years. The rate among 10-13-year-olds was more than halved, dropping from 5139 to 2109 children. In the 14-16-year-old category, offending dropped by 63 percent, from 14,183 to 5188 children.

However, the reduction in offending rates for European and other ethnicities far outstripped young Pasifika and Māori, who dropped by 61 percent and 59 percent respectively. Youth offending in the European/other category fell by 74 percent.

Tania Sawicki Mead from Just Speak told The AM Show the drop in numbers is "a testament to the youth justice system", but says there's still plenty of work to do.

"The fact that we use these interventions and that we work with their families and we understand the context that they're coming from - that's why we see such a success at reducing offending," Ms Mead says.

"But we've still seen this massive failure on the part of the Government to address the fact that Māori and Pasifika young people are still really disadvantaged.

"That's reflected in the number of young Māori and Pasifika people who are coming in front of the court."

Ms Mead says it's important not to blame families for their child's offending.

"Most of the time, for young people who are offending, the causes are well-known to us. They're things like family violence, poverty and deprivation, their experiences of racism and discrimination. It's head trauma, it's mental health issues. So those are not things that it's constructive to blame families on by any means."

Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker's says the drop in the rate of offending hasn't reduced the seriousness of crime.

"The cases that are coming into our youth court are at the serious end and with young people with a highly complex background and needs and circumstances to deal with."

Judge Walker says the challenge now is intervening before young people become criminals.

He says children at risk need to be identified early on.

"When they come in to the youth court at 14, 15, 16, it's pretty late. We often feel that we're playing catch-up in the youth court trying to deal with the issues that have been around for a long time. It does need to start when they're first coming to notice in the youth justice arena."