In part one of a three-part analysis on parties’ law and order policies Newsroom spoke to two clinical psychologists – Dr Julie Ioane, who works with children and youth involved in care and protection and youth justice, specialising in mental health, trauma, youth forensic and violence from a Pacific perspective, and Dr Armon Tamatea, who has worked in the criminal justice area for over 20 years. He’s currently with the University of Waikato with a focus on prisons, institutional violence and gangs. We also spoke to Tupua Urlich, who has experience living in state care and is now the national spokesperson and advocate for children and rangatahi for VOYCE Whakarongo Mai. 

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These experts rated National and Act’s policies as more punitive overall than the other parties, with a focus on individual responsibility. Labour’s policies have elements of punishment but also a “habilitation” focus (we’ll come back to that), and policies from the Greens and Te Pāti Māori were more likely to target the system and offer preventative solutions.

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Here’s a reminder of what National and Act have brought to the table:


– Create a new Young Serious Offender category. An offender can face a range of consequences such as being sent to a Youth Offender Military Academy, electronic monitoring, or being subject to an intensive supervision order with a community provider. The classification lasts two years. 

– Young Offender Military Academies for those aged 15 to 17 to be sent for up to 12 months. The Academies will be run by the Ministry of Justice, in partnership with the Defence Force and other government agencies, with support from community organisations or iwi with a track record of delivering programmes that reduce youth reoffending. Assigning each young offender who has completed their time at a Young Offender Military Academy to a community provider to provide intensive support to help their reintegration back into the community. Sixty places a year costing $25 million. 


– Introduce an infringement notice offence for shoplifting, resulting in instant, practical punishments such as fines and community service such as picking up litter, cleaning graffiti or volunteering at a community group.  

– Electronic monitoring for serious youth offenders. 

– 17-year-olds who commit any offence (rather than just serious offences) will have their cases heard in the District or High Courts and will be subject to the Sentencing Act.

– 200 new youth justice beds managed by Corrections. 

– Transfer youth justice functions from Oranga Tamariki to Corrections. 

– A long-term vision of shifting the protective custody of children from the State to iwi and community groups. 

Dr Ioane has worked with youth who have been through boot camps and said they can work for a certain cohort but only if the transition is done right.  

“Some of the kids did really well, but nothing changed when they came back out to the community… What you’re doing is building these kids up, and then you bring them out and nothing’s changed, nothing’s changed in their family and that increases the risk for them to go down the pathway that they’ve always known. 

“Those military boot camps, they’re probably working for our kids who are privileged, and they’ve got families that are supportive, and they may have gone off the rails and need to get a bit of that tough love.”

Dr Tamatea said the evidence on boot camps, or “academies”, was not there. 

“The international research literature on boot camps says they’re ineffective, this is what has been published and peer reviewed, the most promising study had a neutral finding, and that was attributed to bootcamp plus wraparound services. 

“I saw some of the data that the New Zealand government had drawn on with some of the bootcamp stuff they’d done a little while ago, and they could even fill a group… and those who are attending were on the borderline of a criminal future, or just kids who were up to misadventure, so the issue is, whether they’re actually targeting the requisite group anyway.” 

On ankle bracelets, which would also be a possibility under Labour, Ioane said they were not a deterrent and actually set in motion the idea for young people that this was their path now. 

“On one hand, it’s a ‘cool, look at me’ mentality and on the other hand it’s ‘this is who I am and I will become who I am’. 

“I did have a kid, this is going back a couple of years ago, who was under an electronic bracelet and for him it was a cool thing to have, because every other kid in the neighbourhood knew he had one and you’re in communities where that stuff does potentially get seen as a good thing. But when I see them in therapy they actually don’t like it, it’s real shaming for them.” 

She said children thought they were on the right path, when they came into the youth justice system. 

“It’s not uncommon for me to hear boys telling me, ‘I’m just going to do my time here and then I’ll do my time with the big boys’, so it just reinforces the trajectory for where they go, where they should end up.” 

Tupua Ulrich said boot camps and ankle bracelets were only for the benefit of “optics” and would not fix anything for anyone. 

“Instead of worrying about optics outside, you need to gain insight on what is going on. Systems are very streamlined, they like to mould people to them and unfortunately that doesn’t work.”  

“If [policy-makers] were to investigate they’d gain a lot more understanding and make more educated decisions that would reduce the risk of reoffending.” 

All had mixed reactions to Labour’s moves, most of which it announced as government, but which haven’t begun yet. 


– New aggravating factor for an adult to use young people to commit a crime. 

– Aggravated sentence for posting crimes online. 

– Requiring young offenders to attend education programmes or do community activities. 

– Victims entitled to attend Family Group Conferences for children over 10. 

– Two new youth justice units for up to 30 high needs youth, mostly catering to 17-year-olds.  

– Better screening and non-invasive search powers for youth residences. 

– Ability to place youth in secure care if mass disorder in a residence “imminent”. 

– Improved Family Group Conferences and extra Family Group Coordinators focused on youth crime ($1m funding boost). 

– Better co-operation between Oranga Tamariki and police for quicker referrals and stricter compliance. 

– New offence specifically targeting ram raid offending. 

– Change to enable 12 and 13-year-olds alleged to have committed a ram raid to be charged in the Youth Court – enabling the use of electronic monitoring. 

– New intensive programme to break the cycle for up to 60 recidivist young offenders. This programme – ‘Enhanced Fast Track’. 

– Further expansion of successful ‘Circuit Breaker’ fast-track intervention programme for young offenders. 

Tamatea said Labour policies were designed around individual behaviour and improving environmental factors.  

“There’s this view that getting people involved and busy will be the way out of this. So I think habilitation seems to be the overarching theme for these Labour policies.

“Where things get murky for me is the justice response, particularly around these justice units, it’s still that whole idea that some young people warrant a very hefty sanction.” 

Urlich said expanding and resourcing community providers to run “circuit breaker” programmes, despite not solving the root of the problem, were still helpful.  

“I’d really love to see more initiatives [like that] driven by the community and not the government going in there and saying, this is what we want.” 

He said there was no way more youth justice residences would help. 

“When you go through institutions you’re away from your family, you struggle to form relationships… not only do [young people] deserve much better, we really need them to have much better.

“Children are being exposed to dangerous behaviour. They’re abused and they grow up very angry and very broken and when the symptoms of trauma are exposed out in the community as teenagers, and then later on in life the Crown says, oh no, we need to punish them.” 

Ioane said if new youth facilities were built it needed to be very clear what there aim was, and to be properly staffed.  

“I’m a psychologist, I get seven years of training before I can even actually get into the field, these guys are actually dealing with the most hard-end kids and they won’t have had much training.” 

She said young people were not afraid of a residence, and it was not a deterrent.  

“They actually don’t have anything to fear and when you’re a 12-year-old, and you don’t have anything to fear, that tells you that whatever was going on beforehand contributes to where you are to date. It’s not an excuse, but it’s to provide us with an understanding so that we can then put things in place that actually target what’s going on for them.” 

That’s backed up by recent data from the Ministry of Justice’s April youth justice indictors paper. 

The data shows 92 percent of children aged 10-13 referred for a family group conference had previously been the subject of a report of concern to Oranga Tamariki about their care and protection. This has changed little over the past decade. 

It’s a similar story for young people aged 14-17 with 88 percent previously the subject of a report of concern to Oranga Tamariki. 

She said education was the single biggest area that would improve things for young people and the circuit breaker models were largely an attempt to re-engage young people with the education system. 

“If we’re going to get some bang for the buck, it’s in terms of working with children who are yet to come into the system, strengthening what we’re doing and strengthening their education because in my research, I asked [youth offenders] a question: what advice would you give to a younger version of yourself or to someone else that might be coming through this pathway, and most of them say to stay in school, and for the system to help them stay in school.” 

Experts were most excited by policies from the Green Party and Te Pāti Māori. 

Here’s what they propose: 


– Expand specialist youth courts such as the Rangatahi and Pasifika Courts throughout Aotearoa. 

– Minimise the use of remand in youth detention facilities, and ban the detention of young people with adults in all circumstances. 

– Ensure that young people involved in the criminal justice system have the support they need to address the causes of their offending, including mental health and trauma support, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. 

Te Pāti Māori  

– Disestablish Youth Justice Residences by 2030. 

– Work with whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori organisations to devolve justice services. 

– Invest in kaupapa Māori Justice solutions/Muru/Restorative Justice. 

– Adopt all Waitangi Tribunal recommendations regarding Justice Issues. 

– Raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 16. 

Tamatea said it was about identifying what problem politicians were trying to fix. 

“If the issues are about individuals being broken, or disruptive or distorted in some way, then the solutions will be about fixing those people. So individual rehabilitation boot camps, that kind of stuff, that’s for difficult people. 

“What the Greens are saying is actually there’s some systemic and community things that need to be in the conversation… so let’s maybe not ramp up the punitive elements of this, let’s try and invest more into some preventative work.” 

Similarly with Te Pāti Māori policies Tamatea said they were not targeting individual offenders. 

“The source of blame here squarely sits with the system (inequities, dislocation of people from whānau, undermined traditional social processes, discrimination towards Māori), and accordingly, the solutions are directed to disrupt the systemic basis of oppression ie the Crown, the Law, prisons.”

Urlich said devolving power to the people who understood the problem was critical.  

“It makes absolutely no sense for someone to be sitting in Wellington, making decisions on behalf of a young person who’s living in Whangarei, or somewhere else. Understanding the importance of relationships and community in a young person’s life, and the benefits that come with having a personal relationship – things like knowing the family environment, knowing their aspirations and what kind of person they are.” 

Ioane agreed giving more power and resource to communities to help one another was a good way forward. 

“All of these kids, I can say hands down, they don’t want the younger sibling to come through the same pathway. And the parents who have been through the same pathway, also don’t want the same thing for their child, but they don’t have the resources to be able to correct it.” 

“I’m dealing with a kid right now who’s 13, who’s been in a residence and he’s got a younger brother who’s five, now we should be investing in that younger brother because right now he’s so open and doesn’t know anything about all this crap that’s going on.

“But all he sees is his older brother who comes in, goes into a residence, comes back out and all of those things become the norm.” 

Part two will look at ‘tough on crime’ policies including gangs, the three strikes law, the prison population and victims of crime.

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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