Youth crime falls but gaps remain

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014

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As youth crime continues to plummet in the south, the number of family group conferences has more than halved.

Sergeant Phil Berryman, head of the Invercargill police youth services, said it dealt with 280 youths last year - almost half the 530 figure in 2009.

The number also reflects the low number of youths dealt with during Christmas, traditionally a busy time, and barely any bail breaches, he said.

Figures collated by Mr Berryman show there were 40 youths dealt with and five bail breaches in December and January, compared with 142 and 35 bail breaches in the equivalent period of 2009-10.

The number of family group conferences held in the city has halved from 300 in 2009 to 130 last year..

Mr Berryman attributed the decrease to proactive police work and cooperation with community and government agencies.

In 2012, he was calling for a youth remand centre to be established in the city because of the large number of arrested youths being remanded in police cells. But Child, Youth and Family disagreed, saying there were several residential options available in Southland.

Last week, Mr Berryman said that as youth crime decreased there was no longer a need for a youth remand centre. However, urgent placement for arrested youths continued to be a problem in the city. "There has always been an issue so it's something we're always working on."

Arrested youths were often placed in the Invercargill police cells because there was nowhere else for them to go.

"The main focus for remands beds centres around the urgency for accommodation following arrests and unfortunately this is always an unknown quantity and cannot be planned for."

In the past few months, only three or four youths had been held in Invercargill police cells and it was generally only for one night, he said.

Alternative arrangements could sometimes be made, including placement through other community providers, in other CYF facilities and improved organisation of flights to and from Christchurch, he said.

It would be ideal if a couple of beds at a CYF care and protection home could be available, supervised by a person with a dual role.

CYF general manager of youth justice support Chris Polaschek said there were times when it was not safe to release a young person into the community for a short period of time.

The use of police cells was a last resort but sometimes the best available option.

The youth justice system tried to keep young people out of the formal system as much as possible while ensuring community safety, he said. The system also ensured youths were held accountable for their offending.

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Options for managing young people safely in the community in Southland, including effective programmes such as supported bail, had increased in the past six months.

"Child, Youth and Family, as part of the Youth Crime Action Plan, are continuing to develop initiatives for managing young people who need close supervision."

The number of youth justice referrals throughout the country had significantly reduced in the past two years.

Government initiatives appeared to be contributing to the reduction in youth offending, Mr Polaschek said.

They included expanding the availability of supported bail programmes, using electronic bail, increasing community based placement options and increasing the availability of escorts when a residential custodial placement is required.

Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows said Invercargill did not need new youth justice residences but better community-based resources, which were being developed under the action plan.

This initiative, launched in October, is a 10-year plan aimed at reducing offending by young people. 

 

- The Southland Times

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