Prevent youth crime by ending poverty

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that the Government must focus its efforts on the causes of youth offending, as a bootcamp programme is an unwelcome and unhelpful ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

Such programmes have been trialled overseas and proven to be ineffective, with many youths reoffending to a greater degree upon exiting. Similar corrective training programmes, including borstals have been implemented in New Zealand in the past and abolished due to their lack of success.

What is needed urgently is a serious overhaul of our welfare system, combined with a ramping up of resources for community and social services so they can meet the evident need.

Failure of the welfare safety net to work for families on low incomes has resulted in escalating poverty, social distress and youth suicide. Increased financial stress on families due to accumulating debt and unmet needs, including housing, has a lasting effect on the mental and physical well-being of children. The result is often seen in incidences of youth offending, proof that it is crucial children are well-supported in the early stages of their development.

CPAG is concerned that risk factors used to determine whether a young can be categorised as a Young Serious Offender (YSO) may already target an already marginalised group in need of better support and services, as many of the risk factors are external to the youth themselves.

Frank Hogan, CPAG’s law spokesperson says that the current approach to ‘social investment’ in New Zealand, which defines children at risk based on a number of factors and eligible for a greater ‘investment’ merely provides a “faster ambulance ride to the hospital”.

“What we already know is that we have desperate families in poverty, who see no end in sight. A better method of social investment is to understand the causes of youth offending. We know that poverty and deprivation is a precursor to the kind of desperation that is linked with addiction and crime,” says Hogan.

“We need supportive networks for children and families where there are mental health problems, and options such as counselling made readily available.

“Removing poverty from the equation and ensuring that all children have a safe place to call home is crucial to supporting them into better outcomes.

“If we banish them to a year of military training without providing them the kind of support they need, then how are they going to cope with reintegrating into society a year later?”

Targeting parents on the basis that they are negligent and accountable for their children’s behaviour by imposing fines is discriminatory and punitive, driving families into deeper poverty and despair.

Punishing parents for the behaviour of teenage children is part of a ‘blame the victim’ mentality that can only cause harm, and ignores underlying issues.

As Jess Berenston-Shaw pointed out in an article on The Spinoff, this is a combination of policies “that have clear evidence of harm.”

CPAG says that the rates of youth offending should be the evidence the Government needs to put some real energy into reducing the levels of severe poverty experienced by New Zealand children, by boosting family incomes and building many more state homes and providing resources in low-income communities .