Youth Offenders

Simon Collins in the NZ Herald reports:

Professor Richie Poulton, director of a 40-year study which has followed 1000 people born in Dunedin in 1972-73, told the seminar that the study had found two separate groups of antisocial adolescents: an “early-onset” group whose bad behaviour began before age 5 and continued throughout their lives; and an “adolescent-onset” group who were led into bad behaviour by their peers but grew out of it.

“With the adolescent-onset group, do not do group interventions, because they are peer-driven. The last thing you should do is put them with other young people,” he said.

“So boot camps are wrong, prisons are wrong, for that group, and any other form of hanging out together, because essentially what you learn is a lot of new tricks.”

Judge Becroft said he was reassured by Professor Poulton’s talk because New Zealand’s youth justice system tried to keep young offenders out of the justice system where they would meet other offenders.

“Eighty per cent of the young offenders in New Zealand are not charged, they are dealt with by police diversion in the community. They do not come to court, which is the worst place for them,” he said.

“There is no country in the world that matches that rate, and it works best. It’s just good, firm, community-based creative intervention led by police and the community.

I agree that every effort should be made to keep youth offenders out of court, unless their crimes are so serious (murder or rape) that there is no alternative.

But going back to the work of Professor Poulton, youth offenders are broadly two categories – the early onset offenders and the adolescent onset offenders. For the latter group, the keep them away from court and prison prescription is best.

But for the early onset offenders, the reality may be that once a clear pattern has been established, then the needs of protecting the community take precedence.

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