Booze to blame for youth violent crime - judge
While youth crime overall is steadily declining, serious violent offending has increased and the principal youth court judge says alcohol is to blame.
Statistics released yesterday show that 3582 offences were recorded in the Youth Court last year compared to 3939 in 2010.
However, the statistics were only "part of the picture," principal youth court judge Andrew Becroft said.
The number of youths apprehended by police has steadily declined in the past five years, whereas apprehension rates for those aged over 17 had generally increased.
About 75 per cent of youth apprehensions resulted in a warning or alternative action, about 10 per cent in a family group conference and the rest resulted in court action.
"So what you've got is what's left. It's the serious end of what they decide to prosecute," Becroft said.
"So it's a part, but it's not the whole picture."
The youth court deals with offenders aged between 12 and 16 years old.
Apprehension rates for all youth, aged 0 to 16, fell from 37,981 in 2010 to 34,164 in 2011.
The numbers have been steadily declining since 1994, when the total for apprehensions was 42,156.
"That's good news and it's not understood," Becroft said. "The stats show real ground for cautious optimism."
The general perception was that youth crime was increasing, but the reverse was the case. "But you never hear that."
There were several reasons for the trend. There was better practice in the youth justice sector, better interventions, a greater cross-sector approach and population rates had fallen.
The statistics also showed that a dozen 12 and 13-year-olds appeared before the youth court in 2011, compared to just three in 2010. But those statistics reflected changes to the youth court which only included 12- and 13-year-olds from October, 2010.
Overall apprehensions of 10- to 13-year-olds actually declined from 8083 in 2010 to 7558 in 2011.
However, what was hidden within the statistics was an increase in offences intended to cause injury and sexual assaults.
"Alcohol availability is certainly a big factor in [violent] offending," Becroft said.
"If you took alcohol out of the youth court you'd take 80 per cent of violent offences out of the youth court."
Beer and cannabis appeared to be the most common drugs used by young offenders in New Zealand, Becroft told an international drug symposium in 2009.
He hoped the Alcohol Reform Bill, which is yet to be passed in parliament, would go someway towards curbing the pattern.
TOTAL APPREHENSIONS BY AGE:
0 - 9-year-olds
1994 - 1596
2010 - 872
2011 - 678
10 - 13-year-olds
1994 - 11,881
2011 - 7558
14 - 16-year-olds
1994 - 28,679
2010 - 29,026
2011 - 25,928