20 Oct 2016

State care age rise prompts call for youth court change

8:55 am on 20 October 2016

More pressure is being put on the government to raise the Youth Court age to 17 now that young people can stay in state care until they are 21.

no caption

There has been repeated calls for the government to allow 17 year olds to be tried in the youth court. Photo: 123rf

The government announced, yesterday it was raising the age of state care for young people from 17 to 21.

The Children's Commissioner and former Principal Youth Court Judge, Andrew Becroft, said it was "illogical and unprincipled" to try a 17 year old as an adult but be able to keep young people in state care until they are 21.

Judge Becroft said there were no disadvantages to raising the age, and 70 percent of those who appeared in the youth court had a history of being in state care.

"Why would you cut them in half and treat them as adults for crime but children for care and protection?

"Young people are still a work in progress, they're developing, they do some dumb stupid things but with good wrap-around services and community investment they will usually come right - it's what the rest of the world does."

The United Nations last week recommended New Zealand adopt the change.

Judge Becroft said there was a misconception that by raising the age young offenders would not receive prison sentences.

The youth court had the option to convict or transfer offenders and to impose prison sentences on 14, 15 and 16 year olds, he said.

However, the youth justice system offered more options for rehabilitation. "The big advantages would be for the [young people who commit] moderate to minor offences to get out of the adult system. That would really would make a difference."

NZ's stance 'embarrassing' - Just Speak

Tracie Shipton, director of the Dingwall Trust youth advocacy group, said raising the age was a no brainer.

"If you could see the effect ... it has on young people who are 25, 26, trying to make their way and they have this massive criminal history that was from when they were a child."

Ms Shipton said often the circumstances leading to youth offending were beyond the child's control.

The spokesperson for youth-run justice organisation Just Speak, Julia Spelman, said it was embarrassing that New Zealand was so far behind other countries.

"Regularly when we go to international conventions, including the recent UN committee in Geneva, New Zealand is in the embarrassing position of having to explain yet again why we're in breach of our international obligations."

Ms Spelman said there was already a lot of pressure on the government to make changes and there was widespread support.

Decision is for Cabinet - Amy Adams

Minister of Justice Amy Adams said the idea had merit.

"The bottom line for me is what is going to give the best results not only for the 17-year-old cohort but for their current and future victims, Ms Adams said.

"We're working on a lot of implications in the agencies that would be involved in that to make that decision.

"In the end it's a decision for Cabinet, not for me."

Ms Adams said the needs of young people must be balanced with the safety of the community.