Friday, 9 March 2007

6 March 2007 - Gisborne Herald - Young offenders appear to have no fear of consequences

6 March 2007 - Gisborne Herald - Young offenders appear to have no fear of consequences

Young offenders appear to have no fear of consequences
by Iain Gillies
Tuesday, 6 March, 2007

In an intriguing - and paradoxical - sequel to the anti-smacking debate and the abuse of children, Parliament will soon be confronted by the alarming problem of youth violence.

Informal head-counting suggests Green MP Sue Bradford has numbers necessary to pass her controversial bill preventing parents disciplining children by force.

But whatever the outcome, politicians will be obliged to consider the prevalence of serious youth crime by New Zealand First MP Ron Mark's initiative to reduce the age of criminal liability to 12 years for serious offences.

Mr Mark's Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill is currently with Parliament's law and order committee, which is due to report back to the House by the end of this month.

Though the Beehive is itself proposing significant changes to the criminal justice system, Mr Mark claims it is not getting to the nub of the issue.

"While I'm concerned at the large numbers of people incarcerated, I don't see the solution as simply letting them out early," he said in an interview for The Gisborne Herald.

"The longterm solution in getting prison numbers down and eliminating the need for new prisons depends on how we handle youth crime and the seriousness of entry-level crime.

"There is no deterrent for young offenders; there is no fear; there is no thought among young people of a consequence for their actions.

"Because our youth justice system is designed to keep young people out of court, they have reached the conclusion they can't be touched."

Interesting stuff from Mr Mark who is concerned that youngsters may be encouraged to break the law by adults who know a child cannot be charged - "and so kids get deeper and deeper into crime".

Most young people who get caught up in hoonish behaviour and delinquency are sorted out by their parents, a local constable or a family group conference.

But this does not always work. Perthaps a "three strikes and you're out" approach to youth offending is worth trying.

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