Government announces new ram-raid offence, 12-year-olds could face it in Youth Court

The Government is attempting to fill gaps in the justice system, including by introducing a new offence specifically targeting ram-raiding with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said existing offences such as burglary currently cover ram-raids but it doesn't always address gaps in the system relating to repeat child offenders, whose age and offending don't meet the criteria for them to face Youth Court. 

One change announced by the Government on Wednesday will mean 12 and 13-year-olds who carry out ram raids will be able to be charged with the new offence in the Youth Court, giving police and Oranga Tamariki more options to deal with child offenders. 

This includes providing police with the ability to apply for bail conditions or for the offenders to be held in the custody of Oranga Tamariki. The Youth Court can also assign electronic monitoring.

Currently, 12 and 13-year-olds engaged in ram raids are generally managed through care and protection proceedings in the Family Court. 

Hipkins said the new offence being created by the Government will send "a clear signal to those who commit ram raids that there will be serious consequences". 

"It will also apply to passengers in the ram-raid vehicle if they enter the shop to steal or cause damage."

Justice Minister Kiri Allan said while young people committing these crimes must be held to account, evidence shows that "intervening early and intensively is the best way to break the cycle and prevent further victimisation".

To support this, the Government will expand the 'Circuit Breaker' scheme that has already been rolled out in parts of Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch. Rotorua, Whangārei, Wellington and Dunedin will be considered as new locations.

The scheme sees the young offenders' information shared with Oranga Tamariki within 24 hours and an agreed plan developed for how to support them within 48 hours in collaboration with community groups.

Data released by the Government shows between December 16 and June 9, 145 children had been referred to the programme, with the majority having an initial plan developed within 24 hours. More than 80 percent had plans fully agreed to within 48 hours. 

Of the 145 children referred, 107 have not been re-referred.

The Government's also creating a new intensive, long-term programme for a small group of recidivist young offenders. 

"This programme – 'Enhanced Fast Track' – will see up to 60 of the most prolific young offenders and their families assigned an intensive support social worker to develop an immediate plan that could include mentoring, alcohol/drug treatment, support to navigated and access the housing and education systems, mental health support, and cultural support," Allan said.

The Prime Minister said interventions the Government has introduced over the past 18 months are working for most children, but he believed they were not enough to "break the cycle of offending for a small, hard-core cohort of young offenders".

"Stronger deterrence and consequences are required. The system is failing them and we need to do better. They are stuck in a cycle of reoffending and we need to break the cycle."

This is the third law and order announcement by the Government this week.

On Monday, it announced it would be an aggravating factor in sentencing for people to use youths to commit a crime and to post criminal behaviour online.

Two more Oranga Tamariki youth justice units will also be established to cater to higher-needs youth, the Government said on Tuesday.

Police figures released last week showed there were at least 388 ram raid-style events in a six-month period to the end of May, including 99 which remained unsolved. This is an average of over two per day. 

Police said there were 218 prosecutions for ram raids, while 86 young people were referred to Police Youth Services, during the six-month period. 

Police recorded 516 ram raids across New Zealand in 2022.