How ACT wants to end 'tag-and-release game' of juvenile offending

ACT is calling for tougher consequences to tackle New Zealand's youth crime problem, saying criminals feel invincible due to the lack of punishments. 

The party announced on Monday it want to spend half a billion dollars on building youth detention centres, including 200 new beds, that would be run by the Department of Corrections if elected into Government at this year's election. 

ACT leader David Seymour told AM Early on Wednesday since there are few consequences for youth offending, offenders continue to commit crimes. 

"These kids will bash up a store to steal two Moro bars and put it on TikTok because there's no serious consequence that they face that is remotely proportional to the suffering of people just trying to do an honest day's work in their dairy or shop or whatever," Seymour told host Nicky Styris. 

Seymour said 81 percent of youth offenders who commit retail crimes end up facing no consequences - and he believes this has to change. 

That's where ACT's proposal of a detention centre comes in, as Seymour feels it's the way to rehabilitate youth criminals and stop this "tag and release game".

Seymour believes the current system of taking some youth offenders to Oranga Tamariki facilities isn't working and he is calling for change. 

"There's got to be an ultimate consequence. Right now, kids know there's nothing that can really happen to them," Seymour said. "They get taken to an Oranga Tamariki facility that doesn't actually have any security… So they just walk out and when they walk out, they get told you've breached a court order, we're going to take you back there, so police have to catch them, take them back and they walk out again. 

"The police say they're filling out the paperwork at the front door and the kids running out the back door to commit another crime and because there's no ultimate sanction, they won't follow any other instructions."  

But research out of Australia shows about half of those sent to youth detention centres have reoffended within a year. 

Data from the Productivity Commission in Australia found for children given detention, probation, bail or parole, 56.8 percent of them reoffended within a year, according to the Courier-Mail. 

A 2009 study on peer influence concluded "considerable evidence suggests that the detention of juvenile offenders in programs characterised by high exposure to deviant peers and minimal adult interaction fails to reduce, and in some cases may exacerbate, rates of recidivism".

ACT Party leader David Seymour.
ACT Party leader David Seymour. Photo credit: AM

When pressed about the previous failings of detention centres, Seymour admitted they haven't worked in the past but believes they can in the future. 

"There's no question that in the past youth detention centres have basically been universities for crime and have failed. We know that, but the alternative can't be this tag-and-release game where they're basically let out to continue offending and feel that there is no consequence for anything they do," Seymour said. "We have to ensure there are secure facilities that are also rehabilitative. 

"Now does that mean that because they have failed in the past, it's impossible? Of course not. 

"I believe it is possible."

ACT's plan involves building 200 new beds for youth criminals and Seymour is confident his party's proposal will work. 

"When we say 200 beds, that doesn't mean one big Shawshank Redemption-style prison. What that can mean is a number of smaller places and each one of them has a balance of you don't want to be there, but you will get skills and be required to prepare yourself for life outside."

Watch the full interview with David Seymour in the video above.