OF ALL the children born in New Zealand in 1978, a quarter of them went on to have convictions.
Of kids born that year, a third of the boys had convictions, as did half of the Maori and Pacific boys.
And 80 per cent of those convictions were before they reached the age of 20 years, while half of all charges laid against them were while this group was aged between 17 and 22 years.
If those statistics shock you, you are not alone.
What is interesting is that most Western countries — for example, the United Kingdom — have the same statistics, and the results, unfortunately, are pretty much the same for kids born in subsequent years.
Changes in police charging practices and justice policy means the numbers have probably gone down a bit over the past 20 years, but that research has yet to be done.
What these statistics mean is the window for the justice system to intervene is only open for a short time. Because of that, it becomes very important that the group that will go on to have a longer and more serious offending history needs to be identified quickly so more intensive work can be done.
It also indicates that most offenders "age out" of miscreant behaviour quickly.
It appears, therefore, that focusing justice intervention policy on inmates who are young is the best place to spend our energy and resources, while not completely disregarding those who are older. Yet we seem to do the reverse quite often.
The young offend more frequently and are at risk from their impetuous nature, so are given fewer opportunities while in prison.
Privileges are earned, so they are less likely to be released to work while on sentences or to be engaged in activities outside the wire in case they walk off, create headlines and unfriendly statistics for politicians and government agencies to explain.
This also underlines the wisdom of recognising that keeping communities safe and young people away from crime is a social responsibility that applies across all government departments, and not just Police and Corrections.
And it is not just the responsibility of the government either, but of all the population.
If we go back to a time when there was far more social cohesion, tighter neighbourhoods,
families less spread out, more face-to-face contact and our communities kept an eye on one another, there was far less crime and fewer people appearing before the courts.
Of course, there was also crime nobody bothered to report, such as instances of family violence and sexual abuse, while petty crimes of dishonesty were often not reported. Though stats are hard to keep when incidents go unreported, we still hear anecdotally reports of far less dishonesty in the first 60 years of last century.
So, with a higher conviction rate than most of us would have suspected, is it a wonder that we are so shocked by it.
Offending is a normal part of societal behaviour, but we should not be numb to it. Maybe we mitigate and excuse the offending we know about as youthful exuberance and save our outrage for crimes that frighten us the most.
However, we must accept that the most serious and lasting offending is coming from those the state has already intervened with — so, how much responsibility are we prepared to accept?
A disproportionately high number of the worst offenders were kids put in state care for their protection, and many of them were abused by other kids or sometimes by those charged with their care and nurture.
So I am pleased there is now an inquiry into the treatment of kids in state care, and it is ironic that previous governments have refused to look for skeletal remains in the deep recesses of their own cupboards, while insisting on increasingly harsh treatment for the children scarred most deeply before becoming serious offenders.
Now some of those previously in government are dead against the state paying compensation to the victims of state care abuse — both the ones in the dock, and those struggling to survive past the offending they suffered which has depressed, diminished and damaged them when the state was supposed to look after them.
Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.