The Government has announced a new package to tackle youth crime, building on existing initiatives and aiming to get more young people into education, training, or work.
Police and Education Minister Chris Hipkins acknowledged that "youth crime is clearly an issue right now, particularly in Auckland" and says the package is intended to "break the cycle".
"While youth crime is down on a decade ago, we're seeing a spike of young people, even children, putting themselves and others in harm's way through high-risk activities such as ram-raiding and smashing shops and we want that to stop."
As part of the Better Pathways Package, all children aged under 14 in Counties Manukau and West Auckland who are caught ram-raiding will be referred to the cross-agency Social Wellbeing Board for intervention.
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$23 million a year will go towards extending the Youth Guarantee programme, adding around another 1100 places. The programme aims to support young people aged 16-19 with low or no qualifications to re-engage with education.
$4.85 million will go towards extending the Ākonga Fund, which the Government estimates will support another 2750 young people aged 12-21 who have been adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic to "stay engaged or re-engage in their education journey".
$23 million over three years will go towards extending the He Poutama Rangatahi initiative, which "provides bespoke community-led support for young people (15–24) most at risk of long-term unemployment", and $2.45 million will be spent "to support a further 232 families with children most at risk".
"We're ramping up our investment in young people to create even more opportunities for them to earn and learn," Hipkins said. "We want to provide every young New Zealander with the chance to succeed. To do that we've identified youth focused programmes that are working already out in the community, and investing heavily to scale them up."
"This package will help address complex and longer-term youth engagement issues that have been made more challenging by Covid-19.
"Part of this package is designed to help keep young people out of the justice system where police and partner agencies believe this approach is warranted. But I want to be clear, young offenders committing serious crimes will continue to be dealt with seriously. This is about a second chance for those that merit it; it's not a free pass."
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Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni added that the South Auckland Social Wellbeing Board's approach is "already paying dividends", and said she is pleased to be announcing its extension to West Auckland.
"Over the past four months all children under the age of 14 who were apprehended as a result of a fleeing driver or ram-raid or other serious offending in Counties Manukau have been referred to the board who can provide wrap-around support and refer them on to other programmes in order to steer them away from crime," she said. "As a result three quarters have not re-offended."
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"Ensuring our children and young people have access to pathways into employment, education and training remains a priority for our Government.
"We have chosen to back solutions and build on what is working for young people right now."
In late August National Party leader Christopher Luxon called for greater parental responsibility in tackling youth crime, but also said the Government had the balance wrong by not focussing enough on victims and not being tough enough on repeat offenders.
He said first time offenders shouldn't be incarcerated, but that option should be used more for repeat offenders.
"Tougher sentencing around community service, around home detention, and frankly one quarter of all the ram-raids are being done by repeat offenders and for them we need to be able to use the youth offending facilities that we've actually got."