Story: Youth offenders

Wellington Family Court

Should youth who commit crimes be locked up and punished? Or should they be given the opportunity to acknowledge and make amends for what they did, and have the chance to gain education and skills? This has been a subject of ongoing debate in New Zealand. Since 1989 New Zealand’s youth justice has been based around getting offenders to take responsibility for what they have done, and developing a plan to avoid re-offending.

Story by Gabrielle Maxwell
Main image: Wellington Family Court

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Most young people break the law at some stage, but most of their offences are minor and they do usually not get caught.

The majority of youths who offend are male. Those who offend are likely to have had difficult family experiences and probably use drugs and alcohol.

Treatment of youth offenders

In the 19th century children and young people were tried in the same courts as adults and given the same punishments – such as prison and flogging (beating with a whip or a stick).

From the mid-19th century industrial schools were set to house neglected and delinquent children (who committed an offence). From 1900 there were reformatories for delinquent children.

In the 1925 the Children’s Court was set up to deal with children and young people.

In 1958 police started a Juvenile Crime Prevention division (which later became Youth Aid) to educate young people and encourage them into activities other than crime.

Youth justice system

The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 changed the way the youth justice system worked. It focused less on punishment and more on involving the family, getting the offender to take responsibility for what they have done and making a plan to avoid reoffending.

Different methods are used depending on the situation, including:

  • warnings by the police
  • meetings with a Youth Aid officer
  • family group conferences with the offender, their family, the victim, a coordinator and a police officer
  • court cases either in the Youth Court, for young people aged 14–16, and some aged 12-13, or in the District Court or High Court, if the case is more serious.
How to cite this page:

Gabrielle Maxwell, 'Youth offenders', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

Story by Gabrielle Maxwell, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 August 2017