Should we raise youth crime age to 17?

Public meeting at Mahatma Gandhi Centre Auckland on October 21

Venkat Raman –

The escalation of youth crime has prompted Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft to campaign for inclusion of offenders aged 17 years into the Crimes Act.

At present, people under the age of 17 can only be tried in Youth Courts and assigned for supervision, even for serious offences such as murder and aggravated assaults.

However, the increasing number of teenagers represented in New Zealand’s crime statistics has prompted Judge Becraft to advocate for a change in the law with an open public discussion in the first instance.

In view of the large number of Indians falling victims of such crimes by virtue of their majority ownership of dairies, retail outlets and petrol service stations, the New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) is hosting a public meeting along with the Auckland Indian Association (AIA) at Mahatma Gandhi Centre from 7 pm to 9 pm on Friday, October 21, 2016.

Reducing reoffending

Briefing a few of us at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre on October 1, 2016, Judge Becroft said that the Youth Justice System is far more effective at reducing reoffending than the adult system.

“Young people go through a process that holds them to account, address the underlying causes of offending and changes their behaviour. The proposed changes will reduce reoffending and improve community safety,” he said.

Most offending by 17-year-olds is related to traffic offences, property damage and disorder. If a 17-year-old commits a serious crime, he or she would be moved from the Youth Court to the Adult Court, just as those aged 14 and above do now. At the most extreme end of offending, the young person would go straight to the adult court, Judge Becroft added.

NZICA General Secretary Prakash Biradar said that many members of the Indian community feared that a change in the law would mean young offenders would get away without being served proper justice.

Sceptical public

“A few weeks ago, a group of 16-year-olds, armed with an axe and metal bars tore an Auckland shop apart in a robbery. They are known to the Police. Small business owners say the incident is proof that the Youth Court would not be a deterrent for reoffending,” he said.

NZICA Law & Order Committee Chairperson Nanette Nathoo said that there was an element of apathy and disbelief among the Indian community.

“In general, we think, ‘Oh they are just going to the Youth Court and that’s it’. Then they will be back on the streets burgling us again.’ The law should have force,” she said.

But Judge Becroft said that there would still be the option of prison and this is not often understood.

“The youth justice system has teeth. For the moderate to minor offenders, there would be a real chance of turning their life around. Raising the age (to 17) will bring New Zealand in line with its international obligations including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Most countries have 17-year-olds in their Youth Justice systems,” he said.

Making a difference

Judge Becroft said that the proposed changes would make a difference to the likes of Rugby player Losi Filipo who was let off by an adult court without conviction after punching four people when he was 17.

“As a 17-year-old, still at school as I understand it, he would have been dealt with in a radically different system – more nuanced, more flexible that would really have an opportunity to turn his life around and there would be real consequences for him.

The Police Association doesn’t share the same confidence.

Three quarters of its officers are against the change, as are 55% of youth aid workers, who say that the extra numbers will only dilute current services.

Police estimate they would need another 75 youth aid workers to see an improvement, and on a frozen budget, that would not happen.


Photo Caption:

Judge Andrew Becroft with (from left) Nanette Nathoo, Parshottam Govind, Prakash Biradar, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi and Harshad Patel at Mahatma Gandhi Centre, Auckland on October 1.

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