JustSpeak believes that raising the youth court age to allow 17-year-olds access to youth justice would be great value for money. Future benefits to society are large: both by reducing the number of future victims and avoiding a larger offending population.
JustSpeak has received government documents that show raising the youth court age to 17 would cost a maximum of $66.1m a year. If providing a more comprehensive youth justice system results in a 10% decrease in offending costs in the future, the long-run savings to the justice sector could be as high as $370m per year – a strong return on investment.
To put the proposed costs of including 17-year-olds in perspective, the Government spends $753.4m a year on running prisons. For the 2014 Budget, we need to think about the type of future New Zealanders want. Evidence repeatedly shows that diverting young people from the adult justice system reduces reoffending.
As we know, the costs of crime are high. There are the emotional, physical and financial costs to victims, and to families and communities of those involved. A more comprehensive youth justice system will decrease future offending and avoid these emotional, physical and financial costs.
Politicians have an opportunity to make New Zealand a fairer place and improve social outcomes by giving all youth access to youth courts. The Government has set aside an allocation of $1 billion for new initiatives in next year’s Budget. There is room for strong investment in our justice sector to avoid costs in future years. The case for change has never been stronger.
Raising the age of the youth court is more costly, short-term, due to increased resources to address root causes of offending. Action plans for youth are more thorough, victims are offered opportunities to address the offender, and treatment for alcohol and drug dependence may be provided. The youth court works through the issues facing the offender whereas the adult court takes an average of 12 minutes to dispose of the offender. The thorough action plans help to reduce reoffending, and have been associated with a large reduction in youth crime over the last twenty years.
Raising the age of the youth court to 17 has the support of many organisations such as UNICEF, Family Works, Presbyterian Support, AMNESTY, PILLARS, PPTA, Youthline, Prison Fellowship, Anglican Church, Pathways Charitable Group, ACYA-Action for Children & Youth Aotearoa, and Key Assets.
Appendix: Estimated Fiscal Impact of Increasing Youth Court Age to 17
|Agency||Scenario 1 (Worst Case)$m||Scenario 2$m||Scenario 3(Best Case)$m|
|Child, Youth and Family|
|Total all agencies|
Source: “Updating the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act 1989: Part A – Operational and Cost Implications”, Cabinet Paper from the Office of the Minister for Social Development and Employment, 2007.