Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Youth Court sentences at 20-year low

The number of young people appearing before the courts has dropped to a 20-year low, but nine people under the age of 16 were sentenced in relation to homicides in the past year.

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice reveal that in the 2012/13 year, 906 young people were sentenced in the Youth Court - 69 receiving adult sentences and the rest supervision, education or rehabilitation programmes, or fined.

In 2011/12, 999 young people were sentenced in the Youth Court, compared with 1152 in 2010/11. The numbers are the lowest in the 20 years starting in 1992/93.

In the latest year's figures, three young people aged 12-13, three 14-year-olds and three 15-year-olds were given adult sentences for homicide-related offences - including murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and any driving offences causing death.

The Youth Court hears all cases to do with young people, except murder and manslaughter, or when a young person chooses to have a jury trial. Those more-serious cases begin in the Youth Court, where the judge decides if the case should go to the District or High Court.

Of the people sentenced in the Youth Court, the biggest group was for burglary and unlawful entry to property. A total of 210 were sentenced for those crimes, 105 of those aged 16.

A further 36 were sentenced for sex crimes, 126 for robbery and 102 for acts intending to cause injury.

While youth offending remains an issue in New Zealand, Justice Minister Judith Collins was pleased with the latest figures.

"These figures confirm this Government's commitment to making New Zealand's communities safer is paying real dividends," she said.

"The justice sector has been working hard to target youth offending and keep young people from appearing before our courts, and it's paying off."

Ms Collins said the new youth crime target had been set, and it was hoped offending would be reduced by 25 per cent by 2017.

"From June 2011 to June 2013, youth crime dropped 19 per cent. We know that a key to reducing crime long-term is to stop young people entering the court and justice system in the first place.

"It's good to see this progress reflected in these latest results," she said.

Barrister Michael Gardam, convener of the Law Society's youth justice committee who has worked as a youth justice advocate for 14 years, applauded the decrease.

"It's a good thing. Studies have shown that young people who end up in the court system end up as recidivist offenders through contacts and networks they make there," he said.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust felt the figures did not give a full picture of youth offending. "The youth-crime records are down simply because fewer people are reporting minor crime, which, sadly, is where a lot of youth crime starts," said spokeswoman Ruth Money.

Youths in court

* 16-year-old accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Ashburton mother Sina Solomona.

* 17-year-old accused of murdering Auckland homeless man Edwin Linder.

* Two boys aged 15 and 17 charged over the death of Stephen Dudley after school rugby training in West Auckland.

* Jordan Nelson, 13, sentenced to 18 years' jail for shooting 55-year-old Rosemaree Kurth.

- NZ Herald

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