Teen sex offender waits for urgent treatment

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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The youth justice system is creating a monster out of an Invercargill 16-year-old who has been in residence since July despite needing urgent treatment for sexual offending, his lawyer says.

Invercargill lawyer Fergus More is representing the boy, who admitted serious sexual offences this year.

A family group conference agreed he would complete a treatment programme before being sentenced.

However, a lack of places in treatment facilities means the youth has not had the help he desperately needs, Mr More said.

The youth is in limbo at Child, Youth and Family's Te Puna Wai residence facility in Christchurch, waiting for treatment. He has been there since July and no place has become available.

"He is vegetating. It is not a healthy environment," Mr More said.

He was being abused by other inmates, targeting him because of the nature of his offending.

As a result the youth was breaking rules and acting up to be put into secure cells.

"He would rather offend, breach the rules, to get into secure care so as to avoid them," Mr More said.

"He should not be there. They are turning him into a bit of a demon - they are creating a monster out of him."

Southland CYF and the police had advocated strongly for the youth to go into treatment as soon as possible, Mr More said, but the national system was failing him.

There is only one facility for adolescent sexual offenders in the South Island, at the Richmond Fellowship in Christchurch.

The youth is on the waiting list but a place will not be available until January, his next court date, at the earliest. There is another offender on the list ahead of him, Mr More said.

However, even if a place was available, the programmes run over two years, and prefer to take offenders as young as possible.

The youth will be 17 in June, and so could be too old to get onto the programme. He is too young to go into an adult treatment centre.

Mr More said the programmes had failed to keep up with changes to Child, Youth and Family legislation. Sixteen or 17-year-old offenders could now stay in Youth Court-ordered treatment past the age of 18, he said.

"Treatment providers should be geared up to keep them in programmes until they are 18."

CYF general manager residential and high risk services, Grant Bennett, said the boy was not falling through the cracks.

"The young man has been assessed for treatment to address his offending, and options are being actively considered right now for when he may potentially be released in January," he said. CYF was trying to arrange counselling for the youth at Te Puna Wai, he said.

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"There were some issues initially when this young man moved into the facility, but the problems have been resolved and he is reasonably settled."

Mr More disputed that the youth was settled.

There had been several notifications about the youth's troublesome behaviour and intentional disruption, and Te Puna Wai staff had noted he felt safer in the secure custody areas than with the other youths, he said.

"That suggests to me he is not in a settled environment. He ought not to be there, for his sake and their sakes." alex.fensome@stl.co.nz

- The Southland Times

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