Key Points:

Judges are having to be "judicially creative" to get around constraints in sentencing options for young sex offenders, Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft told a parliamentary select committee today.

The plea of youth court judges was for "greater flexibility and a more transparent approach" in how young sex offenders were dealt with, he told the social services committee which is inquiring into their care and rehabilitation.

The only youth residential treatment centre for sex offenders treatment centre is Te Poutama Arihi Rangitahi in Christchurch, but access was only through youngsters with Child Youth and Family care and protection status, and not youth justice status, Judge Becroft said.

"So if the Youth Court finalises a case, finds a charge proved or enters an order, automatically and paradoxically they can't get into Te Poutama because they are now deemed youth offenders.

"What happens up and down the country to get boys into Te Poutama from the Youth Court is we stop the case before finally entering a decision or conviction, so they are technically not youth justice completed and then we say `you are going to Te Poutama for two years on bail'.

"So technically everything is satisfied, but it mangles the system in a quite unsatisfactory way. It is the only way we can do it, to get access to the only residential treatment."

Judge Becroft said he was talking about a small group - probably around 50 - of problematic boys, the great majority of whom did not go on to become adult sex offenders.

"Some do - and they are the real timebombs.

"But the youth court has a limited suite of options and is quite constrained in what we do.

"I think we take a judicially creative view, with everybody's consent, that works.... just. But it would be a much better if the law could be changed to allow for a clearer and more comprehensive approach to this small group."

He said that the worst rape cases were generally sent to adult courts for sentence, but that inevitably meant prison and a lack of treatment options for their age group.

"So they are imprisoned with little hope of expert intervention, because the two sexual offender treatment units, as I understand it, are available only for male adult sex offenders.

Judge Becroft said present Youth Court orders did not cater for the length of intervention required at the three other rehabilitative treatment community centres around the country.

The Youth Court submitted that supervision orders - currently limited mostly to six months - should be extended to two years, to bring them into line with those available for adult offenders.

It suggested expanding the time when those orders expire to when the offender reached 18 or 18-1/2 years, rather than the current 17-1/2.

- NZPA