New youth justice policies ‘papering over the cracks’

A graphic of Chris Hipkins talking with a prison building, handcuffs and a gavel around him.

JOINT PRESS RELEASE: Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, JustSpeak and People Against Prisons Aotearoa

Tuesday 18 July 2023

New youth justice policies ‘papering over the cracks’

The following statement is in response to the Government’s youth justice policy announcement today. Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, JustSpeak and People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) are deeply disappointed by the changes that have been announced. We are calling on the Government to commit to transformational change by reducing the number of youth justice residences and ensuring community based rehabilitation is prioritised for young people.

Lisa Woods, Campaigns Director at Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, said: “Aotearoa New Zealand needs an approach to criminal justice that actually works to reduce crime, that upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and that enables everyone to live well in their community. To achieve this, we need to see transformational changes, not a ‘shake up’, in the current system.

“Today’s announcement falls far too short of transformation and instead focuses on papering over the cracks in a justice system that is risking serious harm to young people and the wider community. Much more needs to be done to identify and address the underlying issues that drive a young person to commit an offence.”
Lisa Woods, Campaigns Director at Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

Aphiphany Forward-Taua, Executive Director at JustSpeak, said: “The plan to build high security units for young people is a shocking attempt to replicate the adult prison system. Youth justice facilities are not supposed to be prisons and young people should not be treated as prisoners. While some young people do need more intensive care and support to address harmful behaviour, this should be delivered as part of a model of care that is based on youth development best practice.

“Worryingly, it is not clear how the Government has engaged with whānau, iwi and hapū about these new policies. Given that 80% of young people in youth justice residences are Māori, our response needs to be one that accords with te ao Māori.

“Our country has a shameful history when it comes to the treatment of children and young people in state care and youth justice institutions. Rather than tinker at the edges of a system that has and continues to cause appalling harm, the Government needs to establish a pathway away from youth justice residences to a community-based model of care.”

People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) and 30 other justice advocacy groups, faith groups and non-governmental organisations, as well as 61 criminal justice advocates and academics researching criminal justice, have this week published an open letter seeking a commitment from justice sector leaders to implement all 12 of the Turuki! Turuki! report’s recommendations. The report was produced by Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora - the Safe and Effective Justice advisory group that was established in 2018.

PAPA spokesperson Emmy Rākete said: “Our current approach to policing, sentencing and incarceration is not fit for purpose and is not reducing rates of reoffending in our communities.

Instead, the justice system has been designed to put people who lack opportunities on a path that goes straight to prison and has no way out. It is a maze with no exits.

Emmy Rākete, PAPA (People Against Prisons Aotearoa)

"Through implementing all 12 of the Turiki! Turuki! report’s recommendations, we will have a justice system that holds those who have caused harm to account and allows those who have been harmed to heal.”