Early intervention the key to reduce youth crime - report

Morning Talk 12/06/2018

A new report argues the Government should opt for early intervention in tackling youth crime, as "harsh punishments have little deterrent effect on young people".

The Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor’s latest report says the evidence proves it's more effective to improve community, social and family environments to keep children away from entering the prison pipeline.

The report calls out boot camps, which were a National Party election policy, as an ineffective tool that has even been shown to increase crime.

University of Otago associate professor Joe Boden, who was involved in the report, told Mark Sainsbury that the research is “pretty clear and unequivocal”.

For some kids, it's as early as three, four, five years old

Mr Boden explained that once young people are in the justice system, it’s a slippery slope towards further offending.

“Those kids frequently get on to a pathway which basically takes them more or less straight into prison.

The report calls on the Government to adopt a 'developmental crime prevention' model to change the trajectory of the youths heading to prison. It also identified young Māori as over-represented in the criminal justice system as both victims and offenders, and calls for strong partnerships between Government, Māori and Pacific communities using culturally specific models and worldviews.

Mr Boden told RadioLIVE that intervention is advised to start as early as possible.

“The report outlines a series of interventions that can be undertaken, starting in the preschool years and working all the way up through adolescence,” Mr Boden told RadioLIVE.

The report indicates that most young offenders have been victims themselves, experiencing high levels of abuse, neglect and violence - often from infancy. Eighty percent of child and youth offenders grew up with family violence at home.

Justice sector science advisor Dr Ian Lambie, who produced the report, suggested that using a preventative approach is the most cost-effective way to reduce prison costs.

The report argues that youth need support and trauma recovery services before offending is likely to begin.

Between 50 and 75 percent of young offenders meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness or substance addiction, while 79 percent are heavy drinkers, and 65.5 percent had used methamphetamine in the past year.

The report says the risk factors of youth crime include poverty, violence, childhood trauma, abuse and neglect, school failure, antisocial peers, parents in prison, undiagnosed mental and substance-use disorders, and lack of attachment to homes, communities and people.

The protective factors, reducing the risk, include a safe place to live, trauma-informed care, support with mental health, literacy, learning support, and a network of people in the home and community for a sense of belonging.

The report acknowledges the crime prevention approach is a "highly political" issue, but calls for "strong and courageous leadership".

Listen to the full interview with Associate Professor Joe Boden above.

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