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HomePoliticalYouth Justice Proposed ‘demerit Points’ Scheme Not Supported By Evidence

Youth Justice Proposed ‘demerit Points’ Scheme Not Supported By Evidence


The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa
has told a parliamentary select committee that a bill
proposing to introduce a ‘demerit points’ system for
youth offenders is not supported by evidence and is unlikely
to achieve its objective of delivering appropriate
consequences for youth offending.

The Law Society
presented its submission today to the Social Services and
Community select committee on the Oranga Tamariki (Youth
Justice Demerit Points) Amendment Bill, a member’s bill
that is “intended to improve behaviours and increase
accountability and transparency within the youth justice
system”.

Seeking to improve interventions for youth
offending is a worthwhile objective. However, the Law
Society pointed to a lack of evidence to support the
suggestion that introducing demerit points will be effective
in penalising and deterring repeat offending.

The Law
Society also said the claim there is a “pervasive lack of
responsibility” by youth offenders is not supported by
recent statistics which show a continuing drop in the rate
of youth offending.

In addition, the Bill is
inconsistent with the philosophy of the Youth Court, which
focuses on holding young offenders to account while also
recognising their needs and vulnerability so that positive
differences can be made in their lives.

“The proposed
youth justice demerit points regime – assigning numerical
scores for different types of offending – would not address
the multiple risk factors that can significantly contribute
to youth offending and reoffending. These include mental
health problems, neuro-disabilities and traumatic brain
injury, physical/sexual abuse, drug and alcohol addiction,
housing and education problems,” Law Society spokesperson
Dale Lloyd told the committee.

The decision to
allocate demerit points to a young person would be made by
enforcement officers.

“This would be a significant
departure from the long-standing approach of convening a
Family Group Conference to enable the young person, their
whānau, victims and the community to reach agreement about
steps that need to be taken for accountability and
rehabilitation. That process would be undermined by putting
the power to impose ‘demerit points’ solely in the hands
of an enforcement officer”, Ms Lloyd said.

The Law
Society also pointed to the risk that youth offenders would
not understand the process and consequences of accumulating
demerit points.

“Children and young people who offend
often come from complex backgrounds and many typically
present with a range of cognitive, communication, learning,
and other difficulties (for example, communication
disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, foetal alcohol
spectrum disorder, anxiety, and substance disorders). There
is no recognition, for example, that the notice of
accumulated demerit points needs to be explained to the
young person in a manner and language that is appropriate to
their age and level of understanding”, Ms Lloyd
says.

The Law Society pointed to serious concerns
about a number of provisions in the Bill. One of those
concerns relates to a provision which would allow an
enforcement officer to lay charges against a young person
directly in the District Court, thereby by-passing the Youth
justice jurisdiction completely.

“This would have the
impact of increasing the number of young people charged in
the District Court, and would disconnect them from the wrap
around support available in the Youth Court. The concern is
that this provision would disproportionately impact
rangatahi Māori and lead to a number of significant
negative outcomes, including the risk of young people being
sentenced to prison”, Ms Lloyd said.

It recommended
significant amendments if the Bill is to proceed, and that
advice is needed from officials and others with experience
and expertise in the youth justice
jurisdiction.

Notes:

The Law Society’s
submission on the Bill is available here https://www.lawsociety.org.nz/assets/Law-Reform-Submissions/Oranga-Tamariki-Youth-Justice-Demerit-Points-Amendment-Bill-03-02-2021.pdf

The
Bill is available here https://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/member/2020/0229/latest/LMS323852.html

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