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Posted by watchingcyfswatchnewzealand on July 14, 2007

As posted on CYFSWATCH NZ

Tuesday, 10.07.2007, 10:54pm (GMT12)


(9th July 2007)

Sensible Sentencing legal adviser Stephen Franks today praised the scepticism and concentration of the Youth Parliament members of the Law and Order Select Committee. He presented the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s submission on reform of youth justice.

“I wish the real MPs were as suspicious of the soothing words they get from the criminal justice industry officials. The young people were told that our Youth Justice system is the best in the world, by officials who simply refuse to compare its results with the rest of the world.”

“The youth “MP’s” seemed disinclined to judge on kind intentions. They wanted to know what the smooth words meant.”

“Sensible Sentencing urged the young committee members to compare our current state with the rates that really matter – that is true criminal violence rates before the system became obsessed with ‘curing’ the sickness of individual offenders, instead of deterring most kids from going near crime in the first place.”

Sensible Sentencing’s recommendations were as follows:

To: Law and Order Select Committee – Youth Parliament 2007

What should be the focus of New Zealand’s Youth Justice System?
Answer: The goal should be exactly the same for every part of the criminal justice system – Minimising crime to protect innocent victims.

To that end it must respect what we now know about criminals. Speed and certainty of consequence can deter more than longer or harsher punishment.

Research shows one psychological measure on which criminals differ characteristically from non-offenders. Offenders have a high risk preference. In ordinary language they are gamblers, they seek out risk. They have high self esteem. They back themselves to beat odds ordinary people would not accept. Uncertainty encourages that gambling drive.

Our modern offender centred criminal justice system could scarcely be better designed to feed offenders’ exaggerated notions of their own luck. At every stage it maximizes uncertainty about the results of offending. The system encourages bets on the chances of:

  • Not being caught,

  • Not being charged once caught. The system does not keep good national records, so repeat offending may not even be recognized.

  • Being dealt with in laughable Family Group conferences. Promises to do good things may not be followed up by any authority, so can mean nothing.

  • Not being the one in 7 caught who go to the Youth Court;

  • Getting a judge who does not believe in punishment.

  • Getting a fine or community sentence that is not enforced. Eventually it will be wiped when the offender is next in Court facing more serious charges.

  • If unlucky enough to get sentenced to custody, being let out early because many youth custody facilities have been closed and new ones are too small.


Research also shows that offending patterns rarely change much once established. Accordingly, speed and certainty of consequence are especially important with entry-level or youth crime, before offenders become hardened. They must believe the law means what it says.

Our youth justice system breaches the first rule of sensible parenting, “don’t make idle threats you don’t mean to carry out.”

Zero tolerance is not zero compassion, or zero forgiveness. Second chances are ok. But not routine 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th chances. And even a second chance should have a cost. The normal social sanction of concern for reputation must be restored by ending automatic name and record suppression. Each apprehended youth offender should know there will be some unwanted consequence, instead of leaving more than 80 percent of apprehensions to go without formal procedure.

All communities are damaged by the weak youth justice system. It shows adults accepting feeble excuses. Criminal patterns are set that few can break as adults. We know that prisons don’t rehabilitate. The system should ensure that only incorrigibles will risk going there.

  1. Don’t patronize young people: They know it is unlawful when they buy cigarettes or alcohol other drugs, or prostitute themselves. The message when the law pursues only those who deal with young people, instead of those in the best position to stop the behaviour, is that the law is not meant seriously.

  2. Legitimise Police diversion: Confirm Police authority to offer first offender children and families the choice of participation in Police tough love programmes, on condition that if the Police conditions are not met, ordinary enforcement procedures through the courts will result.

  3. End the charade of family group conferencing: Preserve Family Group Conferencing for first and second offenders as a sensible form of restorative justice, but end it for habitual offenders and other “families” which do not care, or are criminals themselves. It should be a second chance, not a soft touch.

  4. Enforce restorative justice agreements: Allow Judges to make orders rendering restorative justice agreements enforceable, and authorise probation officers to supervise performance.

  5. Don’t patronise young people: Start criminal responsibility at age 10 for homicide (like the UK) and serious assaults, and at age 12 for all other offences.

  6. Give adult sentences for adult crimes: but ensure young people serve their sentences in facilities better suited to learning, keeping them separate from career criminals.

  7. Abolish the Youth Court and end Family Court involvement in crime, so that the District and High Courts would deal with all crime. Show at the first time offender’s first contact with the justice system just how seriously crime is treated.

  8. Enforce fines and other orders. A single agency (preferably the Police) should heave the responsibility and the full resources for ensuring adherence to orders in respect of young offenders. They could contract with other agencies if they wish.

  9. Restore judges’ power to design punishments to fit the crime: For example, judges should be able to make enforceable long term non-association orders to keep young people away from gangs.

  10. Punish bad parents: Hold parents responsible for readily preventable child offending.

  11. End vague talk about “counseling” and “interventions”: instead state specifically what real powers mentors or other custodians will have in respect of children, and what care children can expect from them.

  12. Restore shame: End name and record suppression for guilty young people and their families to cancel the message that youth offending does not really matter. Concern to protect family reputation is most cultures’ best first incentive for behaving. Secrecy tells kids that reputation will not matter, because the state will punish anyone who tells the truth about you.

  13. Ask hard questions about Tikanga Maori. Smarmy politicians give lip service to cultural respect. But they trash as “red-neck” the common-sense Maori justice values built around whakaama, muru and utu. With Maori offending so disproportionate to numbers, why do they not resuscitate those traditional cultural mechanisms to give some real meaning to cultural respect.?

  14. No racism: End the racist assumption that it is culturally offensive to expect the same standards of behaviour and care from all parents irrespective of race.

  15. Protect good parents: Protect from court and lawyer interference parents, and voluntary clubs, schools and employers which set and enforce behaviour standards.

  16. Bad company breeds bad behaviour: Restore non-association orders as a routine and strictly enforced consequence of offending to break up gangs and make bad company a burden



Stephen Franks
Justice Spokesman,
Sensible Sentencing Trust

Mobile : 027 4921983

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