ACT has today announced a law change that will mean 17-year-olds no longer go through the youth justice system and will face real consequences for their crimes.

“It’s clear that the youth justice system isn’t deterring young offenders from committing crime, and isn’t delivering justice for victims,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The previous Government, in 2016, took 17-year-olds out of the adult justice system. ACT supported that legislation as part of a wider confidence and supply agreement. We were told the worst offenders would still go through the adult system, and somehow youth crime would reduce. Those things have turned out to be wrong, and we must now have the courage to correct a mistake.

“That National Party initiative came into effect on July 1, 2019. We now have three years of data, and harrowing headlines to show it was a mistake. At the heart of the mistake was thinking offenders should be at the centre of the justice system. That was wrong, the next Government must make victims its focus.

“Including 17-year-olds in the youth justice system has done nothing to reduce offending rates. Relative to 18 and 19-year-old offenders, 14 to 17-year-olds were half as likely to offend in 2018/19, and they are still around half as likely to offend in 2022/23.

“Specifically, in the 2018/19 year, 14 to 16-year-olds were 52 per cent as likely to be proceeded against by Police as 18 and 19-year-olds. Last year, 2021/22, 14 to 17-year-olds were 52 per cent as likely to be proceeded against by Police.

“One of two things has happened. 17-year-olds started committing half as much crime to fit into their new age category, or 17-year-olds kept committing crime but got proceeded against half as often under the Youth Justice system. In theory it could be either, but which one sounds more plausible?

“17-year-olds are old enough to face adult justice. It’s an age when young people should understand that consequences come from breaking the law and that they will be held accountable for doing so.

“Far too often our justice system favours the criminals rather than the victims. That must stop. It can’t be right that a 17-year-old can avoid prison after violently beating a 78-year-old man in his own home and leaving him for dead. But that’s what is happening. It’s no wonder young criminals see the youth justice system as a joke.

“At the time of National’s policy change, the Police Association warned ‘Youth Aid officers will be tied up dealing with youth at the older end of the spectrum to the potential detriment of effective preventative work with younger offenders in the 11 to 13 age bracket. At this age, Youth Aid officers have a real opportunity to prevent a pattern of offending through the teen years.’ It pointed out raising the age would seriously increase the workload of Police and would not reduce overall offending.

“Youth crime has become more common and more brazen in recent years and the Government is not taking the problem seriously. Youth offenders are being housed in inappropriate Oranga Tamariki facilities which in the last two week have been scenes of chaos.

“Oranga Tamariki’s job is to protect vulnerable children, not to house young men who are well on the way to becoming hardened criminals. By placing these young men into the adult justice system where they belong, ACT will remove a burden from Oranga Tamariki which will help them focus on their core role. It will also ensure that 17-year-old youth offenders can be kept somewhere secure, where they can no longer harm others, and where they can get the appropriate rehabilitation.

“Offenders under the age of 18 who are sentenced to jail are kept within a youth unit, or a segregated adult unit if a youth unit is not available, rather than housed within the general prison population.

“This policy is about creating a circuit-breaker so there are fewer victims and so young criminals can be set on a better path.

“ACT’s policy is one step towards tackling out of control youth crime and creating a safer society. ACT is focused on serious consequences for offenders so fewer young people enter a life of crime in the first place, and justice for victims.”

ACT's Adult Justice for 17 Year Old Offenders policy is here

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