By: Simon Collins

Only nine of the country’s 23 main courts have education officers for youth justice hearings, and lawyer Helen Bowen, above, says we need more of them even in those nine places. Photo / File

The National Party has launched a private member’s bill to get young offenders back to school.

The bill, in the name of education spokeswoman Nikki Kaye, would require the Ministry of Education to spend an estimated extra $2.5 million a year to put education officers into every Youth Court and family group conference.

Former Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft, now the Children’s Commissioner, has said that 65 to 70 per cent of offenders in the Youth Court, which covers the age group 14 to 16, were truanting or simply not enrolled in any school.

“While there is no magic bullet to reduce youth offending, if there was, it would be to keep every young person meaningfully involved in education,” he said.

The National Government started a pilot scheme stationing Ministry of Education officers in the Manukau and Porirua Youth Courts in 2010, and in Christchurch from 2011, to provide educational reports to judges and family group conferences, and to “assist the young person to re-engage in education or vocational training (if suitable)”.

A small sampling of 30 offenders in the three pilot courts in 2011 found that they were “significantly less likely to reoffend” than offenders in other Youth Courts.

National MP Nikki Kaye wants to spend an extra $2.5m a year on expanding the number of education officers in the youth justice system. Photo / File

A report for former Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills in 2012 said only 13 per cent of the sample reoffended within a year, compared to 46 per cent of all Youth Court offenders – a reduction of almost three-quarters.

The scheme was expanded but there are still education officers in only 10 of the 23 courts where judges are based: Auckland, Waitakere, Manukau, Hamilton, Rotorua, Napier, Porirua, Hutt Valley, Wellington and Christchurch.

The Ministry of Education provides an “information-only service” in another 12 of the 23 courts and no listed service in one, Timaru.

“It needs to have a dedicated officer who can actually go in and follow through,” she said.

“These things are time-consuming. Schools have meetings. There might be special needs of some description. It’s a fairly specialised and intensive role, and at the moment I think not enough resources are being thrown into it.”

Kaye’s bill would require the Education Ministry to appoint “a sufficient number of youth justice education officers” to provide education reports to Youth Court judges and family group conferences and to “assist in the implementation” of any decisions made about education.

The bill would also require the ministry to “provide such financial assistance as may be necessary to give effect to” any decisions made about an offender’s education.

Aupito William Sio says the Government agrees that the youth justice system needs to move from a punitive to a rehabilitation focus. Photo / File

Associate Justice Minister Aupito William Sio, who is responsible for youth justice, said he would ask officials for advice on the bill.

“One of the Government’s key objectives is to reframe the justice system from a punitive to a rehabilitation focus,” he said.

Kaye said she hoped the Government might adopt the bill because all parties agreed on the value of education to reduce youth offending.

Source: NZ Herald

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