The Government is looking to break the cycle for New Zealand’s youngest recidivist offenders through a new fast-track intervention approach aimed at 10 to 13-year-olds as part of a new youth crime package, the Herald can reveal.
It will include $2 million spread across four regions - Auckland, Waikato, Northland and Bay of Plenty - to fund locally-led solutions to reduce youth crime.
It will also feature an age expansion of a joint agency approach to youth offenders in Auckland, which originally focused on children under 14 years old but now would include offenders aged up to 17.
Recent spikes in violent crime in areas including Auckland and Waikato had prompted several developments in the Government’s approach to crime, including new police powers to target fleeing drivers and a multi-million dollar suite of changes to address retail crime after the death of 34-year-old Auckland dairy worker Janak Patel.
The new approach to offenders aged 10-13 applied to children involved in serious or persistent offending, such as ram raids, aggravated robberies and fleeing from police.
Within 24 hours of an offender being identified, several agencies would become involved as required, including Oranga Tamariki and police, alongside education, health and social development representatives.
Local iwi and community organisations would be engaged at the earliest opportunity, with the aim to develop a plan for the child and their whānau.
Within 48 hours, it was expected officials would agree on a plan to provide the necessary support, while focus was placed on building a relationship with the whānau to address future offending.
“At the moment it can take weeks for a family group conference or court proceedings to take place,” Minister for Children Kelvin Davis said.
“This change will mean an urgent plan is agreed to ensure a child is dealt with and getting any support they need immediately to help stop them offending again.”
Police Minister Chris Hipkins said: “By taking this approach, fast-tracking it and applying it to a small group of 10 to 13-year-olds who are serious and persistent offenders, we can help address the recent spike in offending and continue to see the number of ram raids come down.”
The package also expanded the Kotahi te Whakaaro joint agency response to young offenders, which was initially developed in South Auckland for children under 14.
As part of its $53 million Better Pathways youth crime package announced earlier this year, the Government funded Kotahi te Whakaaro to be carried out in West Auckland.
The approach, created by the South Auckland Social Wellbeing Board, brought together members of police, Oranga Tamariki, Counties Manukau Health, education, Kāinga Ora, the Ministry of Social Development, local non-government agencies and Te Iwi o Ngāti Kahu to review cases of youth offenders caught in the preceding 24 hours.
Now, Kotahi te Whakaaro would also address offenders aged between 14-17.
Board programme director Ann Wilkie, also an inspector with Counties Manukau police, said having a timely, joined-up response to children who presented signs of offending was proving successful.
“It’s the ones that sit outside of that space that often it’s more of a siloed approach so definitely for those kids who are starting to go down the wrong path, the way that Kotahi te Whakaaro works is definitely the way to go.”
In four months of operation, the approach had led to only 13 of 52 children reoffending and just four new reports of concern from Oranga Tamariki. Six had been supported back into education. Only 19 were in education to start with.
The focus on local solutions was at the heart of the package, with $2m devoted to funding providers in Auckland, Waikato, Northland and Bay of Plenty to either boost existing measures to target young offenders, or initiate new ones.
On Monday last week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a multi-million dollar retail crime package, following the stabbing of Patel, who was managing the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham when he died on November 23.
It included $4 million that would be split between local councils in Auckland ($2m), Hamilton ($1m) and Bay of Plenty ($1m) to match council funding for local crime prevention measures such as street lighting, CCTV cameras and bollard-esque planter boxes.
The Government would also subsidise the purchase and installation of fog cannons to the tune of $4000 for any shop owner who felt vulnerable - regardless of whether they had been previous victims of crime - something which had limited the application of crime prevention methods in the past.
The Herald revealed the dairy Patel had been managing at the time hadn’t qualified for a Government-subsidised fog cannon in the past because it hadn’t suffered enough crime, despite local police officers recommending the dairy should be included in the scheme spawned from an increase in aggravated robberies in 2016.
Finally, the $6m Retail Crime Prevention fund - designed to support businesses hit by ram raids - was expanded to include those who had experienced aggravated robberies.
On Thursday last week, new police powers to target fleeing drivers were announced, including a 12-month increase to the maximum driver licence disqualification period for a second offence of failing to stop or remain stopped - from 12 months to between 12-24 months.
An amendment would also be made to the Sentencing Act 2002 so that a vehicle could be forfeited on a conviction for failing to stop for police, meaning offenders could have their vehicle permanently removed and would not get any proceeds from the sale.
Finally, police would be enabled to impound a vehicle for 28 days if the owner failed, refused or provided false or misleading information about the identity of a fleeing driver.
Opposition parties National and Act have repeatedly called for harsher consequences for young offenders.
National last month released its youth crime policy, which included sending recidivist offenders aged 15-17 to military academies and enabling ankle bracelets to be placed on offenders aged 10-17 if they had committed a serious offence, such as a ram-raid or aggravated burglary, at least twice.