Young offenders get help for better future

His teenage years were spent as a human pincushion.

By 14 he was a drug addict. By 17 he was in prison, and he has been arrested more than 100 times.

His addiction cost him $1000 a day, his habit funded by the items he stole.

Now, at age 20, he is on the methadone programme and credits a new Invercargill Corrections initiative with keeping him on track.

It all stemmed from a rough childhood and a back injury.

He recalls his stepfather locking him in a bedroom. Physically and emotionally, he was often abused.

He was removed from the home by Child, Youth and Family as a young teen.

Around that time, he suffered a back injury and started taking prescription medication. That escalated into a destructive habit, and he started using "the works", including morphine, heroin and pethidine.

The drugs made him feel better and made things bearable but the prescription was stopped when it became clear he was visiting the doctor too often, he says. He became constantly focused on getting his next fix.

This year he hit rock bottom. His girlfriend, sick of coming second to a needle, left him, he lost his house and landed back in prison.

It was then he realised he needed to change his life.

He went on the methadone programme, and started attending the youth programme, which gave him something to do, a support network and a reason to get out of bed.

Youth Group Report In involves recidivist youth offenders meeting Corrections staff weekly for up to five months. The programme, to increase compliance with community sentences and support offenders live offence-free lives, covers skills such as creating a CV and job hunting.

Corrections Invercargill youth champion Allanah Blackley said a different approach was needed for persistent youth offenders who had missed out on the basics.

For the young offender, the programme has helped him see he had a future. "They're definitely going out of their way to help us out ... it's the most interesting approach to probation I've ever seen."

He is on the road to recovery and has bright plans for his future, involving his own house and a job. "I don't feel sick all the time. I'm not a human pincushion. I don't have to commit crime to get drugs."

Blackley said the programme help youths gain skills, knowledge and confidence they didn't know they had or were too afraid to try.

There were about 7000 youth, mostly males aged between 17 and 20, throughout the country - including about 230 in the Southland and Central Otago regions - serving sentences in the community.

The Southland Times