Crime rates fall but targets unmet

Catherine Harland
Insights Newsletter
5 October, 2012

Police statistics released this week show crime rates dropping to their lowest since 1988–89. Recorded offences dropped to 394,522 in 2011–12, down by 21,802 or 5.2% from 2010–11.

The number of court appearances by children and young people also decreased by 8% to 3,345 in the same time. The reduction was across most types of offences, but ‘dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons’ declined the most at 25%.

The results must be music to the ears of the police and justice ministers. Deputy Police Commissioner Viv Rickard is confident the strategic approach to offending and victimisation issues is having a positive impact.

But how do the above results compare to the government’s Better Public Services targets? One target is to reduce the crime rate by 15% by 2017, which translates to 45,000 fewer crimes each year. So although the downward trend in offences is to be applauded, it shows that only half the target has been achieved, so far.

Another target is a 5% reduction in the rate of court appearances by 14- to 16-year-olds. That means 600 fewer young people appearing in court by 2017. So while the 306 fewer child (10–13 years) and youth (14–16 years) court appearances are positive, they are well short of reaching the target.

As part of achieving that target, a Youth Crime Action Plan is being developed by multiple agencies for release in March 2013. Will a change in the age of youth in our justice system be considered?

In New Zealand, 17-year-olds are treated as adult offenders. As the Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft has observed, this has resulted in ongoing international criticism. It conflicts with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, where 17-year-olds are defined as children. In the South Pacific, only Queensland and New Zealand do not include 17-year-olds in their youth justice systems, denying young people access to effective interventions. It also belies research that reveals adolescent brain development affects judgement significantly.

In June 2012, the government set its (albeit arbitrary) targets for reducing crime rates. As results emerge, progress can be measured. But although crime rates are heading in the right direction, more needs to be done. How 17-year-old offenders are managed by our justice system also needs to be reviewed in light of the approaches adopted in many other countries.

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