This was an open lecture from the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  The forum was chaired by Murray Rae.  In attendance were Andrew Becroft (Senior Judge of the Youth Court), Mark Henaghan (Dean of the Faculty of Law at Otago University), Chris Marshall from Victoria University, and Shane Walker from the Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work.  The dialogue crackled!

The Youth Court deals with youth aged between 12-16 years.  What isn’t being reported is that we have record lows of rathers for youth offences, down by a half.  This includes the police’s mandate to warn offenders in preference to apprehending them.  However there are three areas of concern.

  • The drop is lower among Maori.  At each step in the decision-making process in the justice system Maori numbers increase statistically.
  • The drop is lower in cases of serious violent offences
  • Female offending

We can be a society that wants to see people doing well.  What takes the sparkle out of these kids’ eyes?  The risk factors, which are not the same as cause and effect, for serious young offenders in the court system include their home life, school, friends, and community involvement.    Maybe we need to reduce our class sizes so to keep every young person involved in meaningful and engaging education.  We should be offended as a society at our literacy levels.  Falling behind leads to truancy.  There can be less drugs and alcohol in the system.

Any young offender deserves the right to a person interested in him or her, positive, non-judgemental role models to be along-side people (the Emmanuel?) and positive experiences.  We are relational beings: treat me as you want me to treat you.  What would break the life course offending?  Another five to ten years of growing.  95% of all young people have broken the law at some point (the other 5% lie!)

Dunedin is fortunate in that interested parties have developed strong networks for community-based intervention.  However since they involve organisations like Presbyterian Support which is reliant on funding from higher level policy makers at the national level I would worry how protected from such policy makers.

Punishment is used to regulate an ordered society.  That’s the all point of Shakespeare, the wicked are punished, the ordered society is restored.  The justice system has deeply held beliefs from our history.  We want to be Nemesis, the taking goddess who turns the wheel of fortune.  We have a good restorative justice system in New Zealand, we can still do better.  Justice is the removal of resentment.  Justice and the Law have to be the same thing.  The dangerous offender is the one with the authority to make us feel as crap as them.

Just remember: the lifer is coming to a house near you.