EDITOR’S NOTE: His Honour Judge Andrew Becroft was appointed Principal Youth Court Judge of New Zealand in June 2001. Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and educated at Rongotai College, Wellington, Judge Becroft graduated from Auckland University in 1981 with a BA/LLB (Hons) degree. He practised in Auckland with the firm Fortune Manning & Partners. In 1986 he assisted with the establishment of the Mangere Community Law Centre and worked there as the Centre’s senior solicitor until 1993. He then worked as a criminal barrister in South Auckland until his appointment to the Wanganui District Court in 1996. Judge Becroft is a former council member of the Auckland District Law Society and the New Zealand Law Society. He is current editor of LexisNexis “Transport Law”. Judge Becroft is currently the Patron of the New Zealand Speak Easy Association Inc, which assists those with various forms of speech impediment. He is also President of the NZ Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship. He is a strong advocate for youth issues.
AN OVERVIEW OF YOUTH OFFENDING
Drawing on his front-line experience, Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft has provided some context around youth offending. He has outlined core risk factors known to significantly contribute to anti-social behaviour and identified some of the mitigating elements that can ultimately lead to better outcomes.
Judge Becroft’s presentation outlined briefly below has considered:
- Ways to positively influence aggressive, impulsive, truanting teenage boys. This group is disproportionately Māori, often alcohol and/or drug dependent, may have personality disorders and come from disadvan-taged and/or dysfunctional families with anti-social friends.
- Ways of identifying an appropriate per-head spend on persistent offend-ers necessary to turn them around.
Following on from discussions that emerged during Judge Becroft’s presentation during the Youth 2010 The Big Download Conference held 02 February 2010 sponsored by TelstraClear, consideration also centred on whether the small group of persistent offenders, who are recognised as needing an ex-pert multi-system approach, would be better dealt with using government or community resources.
Should community resources be more appropriately directed at the wider group of youth offenders whose offending can be shut down by firm, prompt and creative community-based intervention?
There are two types of troubled youth: the majority (80%) of those that appear before the Youth Court are responsible for roughly 20% of offences. Most of those in this group grow out of this behaviour by the time they reach their mid-20’s. Serious offend-ers represent a small group (around 5 to 15%). This group accounts for around 40-60% of all youth offending.
Strategically, the big gains are to be had among the small group of serious young offenders. However, the significantly larger, peripheral group (the 80%) would greatly benefit from preventative programmes that would help avert negative behaviours.
There are common characteristics that exist among the serious young of-fenders:
- Anti-social peers;
- Disconnectedness with the community;
- Learning disabilities/conduct disorders;
- Family dysfunction/disadvantage; lack of positive male role models;
- Abuse, neglect and previous involvement with Child, Youth and Family services;
- Socio-economic disadvantages. Almost all violent offenders stem from this group;
- Between 70-80% have a drug and/or alcohol problem. A significant num-ber are drug dependent/ addicted;
- More than 80% are male. However, the number of young women who offend, especially violently, seems to be increasing;
- At least 50 percent are Māori. In areas of high Māori population, the Māori appearance rate at youth courts is closer to 90%; and,
- Poor school attendance and participation. An estimated 2,000 school-age students are lost to New Zealand’s education system and are not enrolled at any school.
There are four pillars that together create a positive and supportive framework and help create a recipe for success in the life of a young person. The failure of any one of these supports can create a risk factor:
The recipe for success requires that we know and understand the issues facing young people – target them and work with them. These include:
- Physical Abuse
- Drugs and alcohol
- Family violence
Recent research reveals brain development remains incomplete among youth. Frontal lobe development – responsible for exercising sound judgment, wisdom and common sense, does not fully mature until age 25-30.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
New Zealand has a poor record when it comes to young people’s health and wellbeing. Our rates of youth suicide, school dropouts, incarceration, death from vehicle injuries, unplanned pregnancies, and drug and alcohol use, are among the highest in the western world.
In February 2010, an online survey commissioned by TelstraClear and the Foundation for Youth Dev-elopment (FYD), revealed that though many teenagers believe New Zealand is a great place to live; in reality many of them see their future in another country.
Significant numbers said they have deep concerns about ever getting a good job, or being able to own their own home. They have a sense of disconnection with their community and lack the confidence to achieve the things they want to do in their lives.
We believe a combined approach to youth development is the most effective. This involves national and local government agencies, the social services sector, NGOs and New Zealand corporates working together to help grow our young people into committed, healthy New Zealanders.
It requires the integrated involvement of all those working with New Zealand’s youth, underpinned by the commercial capabilities of the country’s business leaders.
We all have a responsibility for creating a brighter future for New Zealand’s young people.
| Written By: Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft |