MPs are being warned the Ram Raid Offending Bill is out of step with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and fails to address the root causes of children committing crimes.

Select committee submissions close tomorrow on the bill, which would enable 12- and 13-year-olds to be charged in the Youth Court, and enable police to seek tough bail conditions.

A group of 15 justice charities and support groups have lodged a submission opposing the bill, and is sending party leaders an open letter. “We have been saddened and frustrated to watch as political expediency has overridden care and consideration for our children,” they say. “Political leaders on all sides of the aisle have contributed to building a ‘tough on crime’ narrative which has created an environment of fear in our communities.”

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They quote an in-confidence Oranga Tamariki paper last month, by Debbie Francis and Paul Vlaanderen, that finds the theoretical capacity for youth justice placement was 171 places, although existing staffing of residences meant the real capacity was only 133 places.

Forecast demand is expected to rise to 174 by the end of 2023 and to 225 the following year, given current justice sector pipeline trends, the paper says.

These pressures on the overall system of care and youth justice placements, combined with current staff vacancy rates, make it impossible to group children with similar needs and pathways to ensure effective and efficient targeting of therapeutic interventions and treatments.

That stretched capacity also means Oranga Tamariki is unable to locate children in their home region and close to their long-term carers, including whānau, schools, social workers and primary care medical professionals.

And it can’t systematically address undesirable attachments by separating children in residences from gang affiliates, more serious offenders and other adverse influences.

One of the signatories is Auckland youth worker Aaron Hendry. He says the Ram Raid Bill was introduced with the aim of reducing the impact of ram raids, but won’t achieve this aim. Its measures are not supported by evidence, include breaches of human rights and the United Nations rights of the child, and are out of step with our international counterparts.

“The impact on children who commit these offences will be immense, criminalising 12- and 13-year-olds who are in desperate need of love, comprehensive support and guidance; potentially sending them further down a destructive pathway; and without delivering the intended benefits or preventing harm in our communities,” he tells Newsroom.

He and other signatories are calling on political leaders to withdraw support for the bill.

Instead, they should follow the advice of the independent justice advisory group, Te Uepū Hāpai i Te Ora, which sought to take criminal justice out of the political arena with a cross-party parliamentary accord for transformative justice.

They want solutions to youth welfare and crime that are shown by evidence to actually work in reducing offending, not just to win votes.

The bill was introduced in Parliament’s final week, before it was adjourned for the election. “Sadly, we know many ram raid offenders are children and young people,” said Police Minister Ginny Andersen. “This is about making sure we have the right tools to escalate our response for repeat offenders.”

But in their select committee submission, the group say the previous Government’s framing of the bill was not informed by evidence-based solutions.

In fact, the number of children aged 10-13 who offended and came to the attention of police has decreased from 4760 to 1860 (61 percent) between the 2010/11 and 2020/21 fiscal years. And police say the number of ram raid incidents has fallen 65 percent since a peak in August 2022.

They point to a wealth of evidence showing harsher punishments are not an effective deterrent, and can even increase crime. Quoting New Zealand’s former Chief Science Advisor Dr Peter Gluckman, they say: “Young offenders can find the thrill, or emotional high of violent offending, and the social rewards such as admiration from their peers, more important to them than concerns about being caught.”

Other signatories include Amnesty International, YouthLaw Aotearoa, Save the Children, the Howard League, Just Speak, the Association of Social Workers, and Dr Enys Delmage, a consultant in adolescent forensic psychiatry at youth development organisation Ara Taiohi.

There are currently no select committees following the dissolution of Parliament, but submissions can still be made to the care of the Clerk of the House. When select committees are re-established for the 54th Parliament, the bill will be placed in front of a new committee, most likely the new justice select committee.

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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