Youth crime ‘unexploded time-bomb’

The Press 29 July 2009

Hard-core youth offenders are “unexploded human time-bombs” threatening the heart of New Zealand society, the top youth judge has warned. Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft told the Local Government conference in Christchurch that it was likely some New Zealand streets would follow the trend of central London and the United States west coast for alcohol-fuelled knife violence. “We need to know that, because it could become an issue in your local communities.”

…”life-course persistent offenders” committed 80 per cent of youth offending, even though they made up only 5 to 10 per cent of the total youth offenders. This group had severe behaviour problems from an early age and came from dysfunctional families and communities where violence and abuse were rife. Eighty per cent were male, at least half were Maori, 80 per cent were not at school and about 75 per cent had drug or alcohol problems. These “unexploded human time-bombs” were “hugely challenging”. “You can never underestimate how difficult it is to work with that group,” Judge Becroft said.

While youth offending was falling, violent offending among young people was increasing, especially for the most serious violence offences, such as aggravated robbery and assault with a weapon. The judge said New Zealand needed to get tough on alcohol, which was a factor in as many as nine out of 10 cases of youth crime. Lowering the minimum drinking age from 20 to 18 had made alcohol more accessible to 14 and 15-year-olds and increased their binge-drinking, Judge Becroft said.