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28 September 2018
Tēnā tātou katoa
It’s time to strike the provision allowing the Courts to remand young people to police cells from the statute books.
Amnesty International recently released figures showing there are far too many young people being held on remand in police cells for more than 24 hours. The number increased from 62 in 2014 to 165 last year. However, numbers have come down in the last year and it's worth noting that they were significantly higher in the 2000s.
The possibility of young people being remanded into police cells remains an enduring blight on our criminal justice system. It was introduced as a short-term measure nearly 30 years ago. Holding young people in adult police cells is playing with fire.
Almost certainly it means isolating them in solitary confinement. They are likely to have to endure poor hygiene facilities, inadequate food, round-the-clock lighting, and very limited access to friends, whanau and family, and professional help.
These conditions raise the real risk of self-harm, even the possibility of suicide.
It's completely unacceptable that so many young people should spend several days in police cells even before the charge against them has been proved.
And it’s also in breach of our international commitment to the Children’s Convention’s juvenile detention rules that require children and young people to be separated from the influence of adults in custody, to be treated with humanity and respect , have their age taken into account and to not be subjected to degrading treatment.
Part of the tragedy is that this distressing situation arises because of a lack of political will. It could be resolved with a stroke of the legislative pen.
We need to make it crystal clear to our legislators that the time has come to strike the provision allowing young people to be held in police cells from the statute books.
Earlier this month, the Commissioner opened Te Ara Manapou pregnancy and parenting support in Hawke’s Bay. The intensive wraparound outreach service is for pregnant women and parents with children under 3 years of age who experience problems with alcohol and other drugs.
The Commissioner says the service is particularly special in the way it is being delivered to reduce the stigma mothers may feel when it comes to drug and alcohol consumption.
September was also Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) awareness month and the Commissioner used the opportunity to call for a study into FASD prevalence in New Zealand.
“We have spectacularly little statistical information about the incidence of FASD and our approach is based on guesstimates.”
“We know, for instance, that those with FASD are significantly and disproportionately reflected in the crime statistics – at least overseas. We don’t know what’s happening in New Zealand because there has been no prevalence study.
“This is a major gap and we’ve got to fix it. Our Office is calling for a prevalence study so that we know the extent of the issue in New Zealand.”
See the full media release here.
The Government’s criminal justice summit was held in August with the aim of starting the conversation on how to overhaul the justice system.
Around 700 people attended the summit from a wide range of areas such as policy, academia, victim advocacy groups, gangs, police and corrections, and people who have offended. Julia Whaipooti, a Senior Advisor in the Office of the Children's Commissioner, attended the summit in her other role; Julia was appointed to Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora - the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group earlier this year.
The Commissioner was a key-note speaker at the summit, and spoke about how child poverty and the enduring legacy of colonisation have had an impact on our justice system. We know that over three-quarters of adults in our prisons have had contact with care and protection services when they were young. So how do we do better for our children and young people who are currently in care? The Commissioner also spoke on the topic of early intervention and how that was key in ensuring the best outcomes for our children and young people, especially as we want to see a future where all children in Aotearoa can thrive and reach their potential.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner saw the summit as a launch pad for what the public justice conversation could be, and how we can include children and young people in that conversation about reform as their voices are often inaudible. There was a young persons' panel at the summit and young peoples' views had been collected and displayed at the summit. But it's fair to observe there could have been more young people involved.
Our vision is to see a richer design of a compassionate and fair justice system that listens to the voices of children and young people. We hope to see that engagement in the future because often children and young people are the ones most affected by the justice system. At any given time, 23,000 children have a parent in prison.
The government's survey about the future of education is closing soon – October 14 – and if you haven't had your say, now is the time!
The survey has already received 16,000 responses and, while that is a good response for a survey, "we've got to do a lot better for the future of our education system," says the Commissioner.
"Education affects all of us, all of our children and all of our children's children."
The four-question survey can be found here and we encourage you to share this with your family, friends and neighbours – we all need to have our say!
See our media release here.
The Commissioner wrote an opinion piece for The Spinoff in response to the revelations about sexual abuse within the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Julia Whaipooti, Senior Advisor in the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, spoke to journalist Bess Manson about her mission to fix our “broken justice system”.
Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children has created a new unit and reporting system to reduce the harm experienced by children in care.
And a one-on-one approach led by students to tackle bullying is succeeding at Kaitaia College – without the need for adult intervention.
Mai World : Annual Summary of Engagements - June
Mai World: Child and Youth Voices is a way for children and young people's views on a variety of topics to be heard by a range of audiences. Their voices can influence government and community decisions. In the 12 months from July 2017 - June 2018, over 5,600 children and young people took the opportunity to provide their perspectives and opinions to us in seven separate engagements. This report includes many direct quotes from children and young people.
From Complexity to Collaboration - January
From Complexity to Collaboration: Creating the New Zealand we want for ourselves, and enabling future generations to do the same for themselves. This paper discusses public policy and implementation for complex problems such as child poverty.
The Big Questions: What is New Zealand’s Future? - July
The Commissioner wrote a chapter in the book The Big Questions: What is New Zealand’s Future?, published by Penguin on July 30, 2018. The Commissioner’s chapter tackles the question, “Is New Zealand the best place to bring up a child?”.
1 October: Our next State of Care report on our monitoring work over the past year will focus on what young people with at-risk or offending behaviour tell us works best to help them live successfully in their communities.