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Youth crime and justice: Court and prison less likely for new generations of youth



Most New Zealanders believe youth crime is getting worse. Statistics and research shows the opposite is true. The generations born since the 1990s are coming before the courts less often, and there has been a big drop in the numbers going to prison. Open Justice reporter Ric Stevens investigates what’s really going on.

Despite talk of rampant youth crime, Generation Z – that cohort of New Zealanders now in their teens and early 20s – are less likely to get into trouble with the law than any other age group in decades.

There are a small number of them who do flout the law and they tend to do it spectacularly, often by ramming a stolen vehicle into a shop and posting about it on TikTok.

This offending is highly visible, and it has a big impact on the besieged shop owners and communities around them, which is why the public rightly get alarmed.

Generally, people believe youth crime is getting worse. Surveys suggest 87 percent of New Zealanders believe it has increased in the past five years. This belief, however, is contrary to what statistics tell us.

Overall, Ministry of Justice data shows youth crime rates dropping year on year.

The trend is not always consistent, and there has been a significant post-Covid uptick, but the number of children and youths aged 16 or under coming before the courts has halved over the past decade.

And within those statistics are some numbers that illustrate the difference between Generation Z – those born between 1996 and 2010 – and their seemingly less law-abiding older brothers and sisters.

woman on mobile phoneGeneration Z – those born between 1996 and 2010 – spend more time online, drink less alcohol and go to prison less frequently than their older brothers and sisters. Photo: freestocks / Unsplash
In 2010, the rate of children – aged 10 to 13 – who offended stood at 208 per 10,000. In other words, about 99.8 percent of children did not get into trouble with the law.

By 2018, a year for which directly comparable data is available, the rate of child offenders had more than halved – to 93 per 10,000.

Another key measure is incarceration rates.

New Zealanders born in 1989 had a one-in-50 likelihood of ending up in prison before the age of 21. For New Zealanders born 10 years later, in 1999, that dropped to a one-in-200 chance.

That shift is one of the key factors changing the demographics of the prison population, which is getting older on average. The other is the increased number of sex offenders going to jail, who tend to be older when first convicted.

According to a multi-agency government Long-term Insights Briefing (LTIB) report on prison trends, the average age of people in prison was 25 in 1980, and 38 in 2022.

Fewer young people are getting non-custodial sentences.

Eight percent of people born in 1989 had experienced a community-based sentence by the age of 21, but just 3 percent of those born in 1999 had done so.

This means not only are younger adults not entering prison so frequently, they are also not getting tangled up in the wider criminal justice system as much.

Youth in handcuffsFor New Zealanders born in 1999, the chance of them ending up in prison before the age of 21 is now one-in-200 – a considerably lower chance than 10 years earlier. Photo: 123rf
The number of police warnings, issued before the matter gets to court, has also been declining in the key age groups.

Overall, the number of children and young people aged 16 or under who have charges resolved in the courts halved from 2268 in the year to June 2014 to just 1104 in 2023.

Something different is happening
“Birth cohort analysis makes it clear that the decline in youth crime is not simply a product of the changing age structure of society – ie, the fact that there are proportionately fewer young people,” the LTIB report said.

“There is something different happening for subsequent generations of young people.”

The exact nature of this “something different” is still being researched. Overseas studies, however, suggest a number of factors.

One of them is that there are fewer opportunities for young people to commit “gateway” crimes – relatively minor offences that lead to other, more significant, offences.

An example is car theft. People are more likely to lock their cars these days but most modern vehicles are also more difficult to steal, including those with factory-fitted immobilisers.

And if youths are not converting cars and joyriding with their mates, they are less likely to be stepping onto the next rung up on the crime ladder – for example, driving carelessly or dangerously, or driving drunk.

Young people’s routine activities have changed – they spend more time at home online and less in public spaces.

While the internet has its own risks, and it is possible that young people are engaged in online criminality that goes undetected, online activity also tends to divert people from wrongdoing in the real world.

Generation Z also drink less alcohol than their elders, and over time they have been binge-drinking less. Alcohol is recognised as an “offending-related factor” by justice system professionals.

Surveys by the Alcohol Healthwatch organisation show the proportion of New Zealand secondary students drinking alcohol has fallen significantly, and those who do drink are consuming less.

The proportion of secondary students who said they have never drunk alcohol (other than a few sips) was 26 percent in 2007. This increased to 39 percent in 2012, and to 45 percent in 2019.

None of these things alone can explain the downward trend of youth crime statistics, but taken together, they restrict some of the pathways that can lead young people into trouble.

teenage group drinking alcohol togetherAlcohol Healthwatch surveys show the proportion of New Zealand secondary students drinking alcohol has fallen significantly. Photo: 123RF
Then there are changes to the way youth justice operates.

The Youth Court was established by ground-breaking legislation in 1989, which established the principle – among others – that criminal proceedings should be used for children or young people only as a last resort.

The youth justice system now works on the basis of diversion, and aims to resolve offending without young people receiving a criminal conviction, while still having regard to public safety.

This principle is based on experience which shows once a young person enters the formal justice system and receives a criminal record, they are more likely to develop a pattern of offending and their offences may get more serious.

About 90 percent of young offenders are now kept out of the courts. Minor offences are dealt with by the police either through warnings, or referral to Youth Aid for an action plan.

Diversion is the key
The chief science adviser to the justice sector, clinical psychologist Professor Ian Lambie, of Auckland University, also says the youth justice system is doing an “exemplary job”.

“For the vast majority of kids, diversion is the key,” Lambie told NZME.

“It’s far better to take a restorative process, and rather than saying what’s wrong with this kid, reframing that and saying, what happened to this kid, how can we support them, how can we get around them?” he said.

“I have to applaud the vision of the Youth Court judges and the Chief Justice in this space. They are doing an amazing job. And working also with community groups, iwi, mana whenua, etc, other NGOs [non-government organisations], that is where the solution lies, honestly.”

Lambie contrasted the New Zealand system with what he saw in the United States, where he visited recently.

He said the systems there were far more punitive and criminalising of adolescents – or juveniles as the Americans call them – leading to more young people moving into the adult justice system.

“Once they’re in the adult system they’re gone, and it is not only an expensive thing financially for governments and taxpayers, but it also doesn’t result in a reduction in victims. It kind of makes the issue worse.”

Inside Korowai Manaaki a youth facility in Manukau, Auckland.Inside Korowai Manaaki a youth facility in Manukau, Auckland. Photo: Cornell Tukiri
The LTIB report also said another reason youngsters were not offending was that attitudes towards young people have changed, resulting in “better parenting and other supports”.

This connects to another factor that has influenced criminal offending over past decades: the burden of being abused as a child while in the care of the state.

The LTIB report said people born between the mid-1960s and the 1980s were the generations that experienced the highest levels of involvement with state care, including residential care.

Research for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into abuse in state care suggests that as many as 250,000 children were abused while in the care of the State or faith-based organisations.

Its research also found that between 32 and 35 percent of people who experienced state residential care as a child between the 1960s and the 1980s later went to prison as an adult.

Generation Z did not experience such a high level of involvement in state residential care, and they also benefited from what criminal justice professionals call “protective factors” that steer people away from criminal offending.

Statistics New Zealand data shows cohorts of 17 year olds in the past decade are more likely to leave school with a qualification, and are less likely to have been suspended from school.

They are less likely to have been the subject of intervention by Oranga Tamariki and are less likely to have grown up in a household primarily dependent on an income benefit.

All of these factors have been identified as contributing to a child’s likelihood of becoming an offender.

Today’s young people are also more likely to have called on mental health services when they needed to.

Despite all these factors helping young people out of trouble with the law, clearly a proportion of them are still offending, and some of them appear to revel in it.

It’s basic parenting
So what makes them different from their peers? A good place to look for answers is within ram-raid offending, because it is one area that has been more deeply analysed after becoming a political issue.

A police study in 2022 identified 79 of the worst young ram-raiders from an examination of thousands of charges laid.

It found they all came from unstable, impoverished households with poor parenting and inconsistent role models, where they had been victims or witnesses of family violence.

They all had “poor or non-existent” engagement with school, lived in social circles where offending was normalised, and began offending between the ages of 12 and 14.

They all had fathers who were engaged with the criminal justice system, either as frequent offenders or spending time in prison.

Police said this was in line with previous studies which showed that young offenders have typically suffered abuse and neglect, came from impoverished families and had left or been stood down from school.

Lambie said evidence suggested further improvements in youth justice required a “developmental crime prevention” focus, which meant focusing on early intervention.

People with therapeutic expertise should work alongside cultural groups, NGOs and schools to help children at risk and their families.

“What we need is people in the homes teaching these people, these parents, not to bash their kids, not to yell at their kids, how to love their kids,” he said.

“It’s basic parenting stuff.”

– This story was first published by the New Zealand Herald


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Woman charged with murder after man found dead in Hamilton



A 45-year-old woman has been charged with murder after a man died at a house in Hamilton early on Wednesday morning.

Police were called to an address on Cranmer Close, Rototuna at 2am, Detective Senior Sergeant Scott Neilson said.

There they found the man in a critical condition. Attempts by police and ambulance staff to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Police earlier said they would have a “significant” presence in the area while inquiries were made.

Neilson said the man and woman knew each other.

“Police are speaking with those involved and are offering support to the victim’s family.”


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Malaysia’s 6th humanitarian aid to Palestine to depart Cairo tomorrow



Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the shipment will consist of 1,358 tonnes of essential aid, including medical supplies, hygiene kits, food provisions and essential items for infants.

“This special mission involves the delivery of 100 containers from Malaysia to Gaza, coordinated through the Malaysian Consultative Council of Islamic Organisations (Mapim) warehouse in Cairo, Egypt.

“I urge Malaysians to continue their unwavering support for the Palestinians, especially in light of the ongoing developments in Gaza. Our commitment to this cause should be steadfast, driven by principles rather than solely religious affiliations,” he told reporters at a press conference today.

This mission will include 20 delegation members who will spend 10 days in Cairo, making preparations and overseeing the delivery process to the Rafah border. The delegation was expected to return three days before Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

Zahid, who is the patron of this mission, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim will engage with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to facilitate the delegation’s passage through the Sinai Peninsula and the Rafah border.

Anwar, who was expected to attend an event in Pahang today, made an unexpected appearance at the flag-off event to demonstrate his solidarity with the mission.

Present were Mara chairman Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, National Disaster Management Agency director-general Datuk Khairul Shahril Idrus and the mission’s chief commissioner Sany Araby Datuk Abdul Alim Araby.

Zahid also announced that Umno will donate RM1 million to the mission.

This humanitarian aid was made possible through collaborative funding from six non-governmental organisations, spearheaded by the Mapim, alongside Cinta Gaza Malaysia, Iman Care Malaysia and Pertubuhan Glokal Ihsan Malaysia, as well as international organisations Federation of Islamic Associations New Zealand and the Al-Khair Foundation from the United Kingdom.


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Chocolate prices expected to rise



By Maytaal Angel and Maxwell Akalaare Adombila, Reuters

Major African cocoa plants in Ivory Coast and Ghana have stopped or cut processing because they cannot afford to buy beans, four trading sources said, meaning chocolate prices around the world are likely to soar.

Chocolate-makers have already increased prices to consumers, after three years of poor cocoa harvests, with a fourth expected, in the two countries that produce nearly 60 percent of the world’s cocoa.

Cocoa prices have more than doubled over the last year, scaling numerous all-time highs.

“We need massive demand destruction to catch up with the supply destruction,” Tropical Research Services’ Steve Wateridge, a world expert on cocoa, said.

Chocolate-makers cannot produce chocolate using raw cocoa and rely on processors to turn beans into butter and liquor that can be made into chocolate.

But the processors say they cannot afford to buy the beans.

A cacao is harvested for the beans inside which are fermented to make chocolate.

Photo: RNZ/Supplied

State-controlled Ivorian bean processor Transcao, one of the country’s nine major plants, said it had stopped buying beans because of their price.

It said it was still processing from stock, but did not say what capacity it was running at. Two industry sources said the plant was almost idle.

They asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak publicly on the issue.

One of the two sources said more major state run plants could shut soon in top grower Ivory Coast, which produces nearly half the world’s cocoa.

The same two sources said even global trader Cargill struggled to source beans for its major processing plant in Ivory Coast, halting operations for about a week last month. Cargill did not respond to a request for comment.

In No. 2 cocoa grower Ghana, most of its eight plants, including state-owned Cocoa Processing Company (CPC), have repeatedly suspended work for weeks since the season started in October, two separate industry sources said.

CPC said it is operating at about 20 percent of capacity because of the shortage of beans.

Disruption at the farm gate

The price rally has derailed a long-established mechanism for global cocoa trade, through which farmers sell beans to local dealers who sell them on to processing plants or global traders.

Those traders then sell beans or cocoa products – butter, powder and cocoa liquor – to global chocolate giants such as Nestle, Hershey, and Mondelez.

In normal times, the market is heavily regulated – traders and processors purchase beans from local dealers up to a year in advance at pre-agreed prices. Local regulators then set lower farmgate prices that farmers can charge for beans.

However, in times of shortage like this year, the system breaks down – local dealers often pay farmers a premium to the farmgate price to secure beans.

The dealers then sell the beans on the spot market at higher prices instead of delivering them at pre-agreed prices.

As global traders rush to purchase those beans at any price to meet their obligations with the chocolate firms, local processors are often left short of beans.

Ivorian and Ghanian authorities normally try to protect local plants by issuing them with cheap loans or by limiting volumes of beans that global traders can purchase.

This year, however, plants are not getting the cocoa they pre-ordered and cannot afford to buy at higher spot prices.

Already, chocolate-makers have raised prices. US retail stores charged 11.6 percent more for chocolate products last year compared with 2022, data from market research firm Circana shows.

The International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) expects global cocoa production will fall by 10.9percent to 4.45 million metric tons this season.

Grindings – a measure of demand – will fall by 4.8 percent to 4.78 million as processors struggle to buy beans, and supply less butter at a higher price to chocolate-makers, which in turn raise prices.

The supply-demand mismatch will leave the market with a deficit of 374,000 tons this season, up from 74,000 tons last season, according to the ICCO.

This means processors and chocolate firms will have to draw on cocoa stocks to fully cover their needs. The ICCO expects global cocoa stocks to fall to their lowest in 45 years by the season end.

Wateridge of Tropical Research said the cocoa market could post another deficit next season based on the severity of bean disease in West Africa.

The market has not seen four successive years of deficit since the late 1960s, ICCO data shows.

– This story was first published by Reuters

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