Apr 15, 2008

Justice Becroft on youth offending

Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft is interviewed in May's North and South. I like what he has to say...

He says it's important the community is concerned about youth offending and right that there's debate about it - but much media and political comment is shallow, simplistic and selective.

He often uses a quote from the Otago Daily Times: "There is a definite relationship between the increase in the number of children on the streets and the increase in juvenile crime." That was in 1884 and Becroft says while it's enticingly easy to reflect on some bygone golden age when youths were docile and dutiful, each generation has faced similar problems.

"And it's very easy to say tougher sentences for violent young boys will prevent their reoffending. But if the offending is serious they'll get tough sentences - the Youth Court sends 60 young boys to prison every year. It protects society in the short term and it sends a signal to other young people that there are ultimate consequences. But we know it doesn't work in terms of their reoffending.

"For most kids it's likely a short, sharp shock might work but for the 1000-odd boys we're talking about, many of them come from endemically violent families - they've had short, sharp, violent shocks all their life. And when we warehouse violent, impulsive, drug-dependent, conduct-disordered, truanting boys with educational deficits all together, it's unlikely it's a recipe for imediate success."

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