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Image: (Tina Tiller/Getty)
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The BulletinJuly 20, 2023

Labour comes off the back foot with last law and order announcement

Image: (Tina Tiller/Getty)
Image: (Tina Tiller/Getty)

It’s been a week for the government as it attended to its law and order Achilles heel. The landing finally got stuck yesterday, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

New ram raid offence and Youth court escalation

As tempting as it is to draw on religious metaphors alluding to a trinity or a three-day time frame, let’s just say the government will be counting its blessings after a well-explained law and order announcement yesterday. Prime minister Chris Hipkins has fronted all three announcements this week and was joined by justice minister Kiri Allan yesterday. The government will introduce a new bill to create a specific ram raid offence that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years (the same as burglary) but more specifically it will amend the Oranga Tamariki Act so that a 12 or 13-year-old who commits a ram-raid and is charged with a ram-raid offence, can be escalated to the Youth Court. As Newsroom’s Jo Moir writes (paywalled), “Allan, who has faced significant pressure in recent weeks and took time away from parliament, was well versed in the policy and offered insights backed up with evidence and statistics on what was causing some of the worst behaviours amongst young people.”

Alignment with National and Act policy

The implications of the announcement will undoubtedly create a sense of discomfort and disappointment for some. It’s a bit further away from the more holistic, “transform the justice system” rhetoric of the government’s earlier days and might be considered to be closer to some of the law and order policies put up by National and Act. Being able to escalate offending to the Youth Court means young repeat offenders could be given ankle bracelets, put into youth justice facilities, or given restrictive bail conditions, such as curfews, said Allan. Act leader David Seymour noted that his party had said that you should be eligible to have an ankle bracelet from age 11 if you commit a ram raid and that “people said that was harsh at the time.” National introduced a policy in November last year to create a new Young Serious Offender (YSO) category for those aged 10 to 17 who had committed at least two serious offences including ram raids, armed burglary or serious assault.

‘It becomes hard to see past simply wanting this problem to end’

An editorial from the Herald (paywalled) this week about the dominance of ram raids within the current national discourse perhaps sums up the electoral necessity of moving away from talking about more nuanced solutions like addressing the causes of crime:

“This may just be a difficult and costly period the country can emerge from to a better state next year. But people get to a point where patience is limited for nuanced solutions, and those that are easy to grasp can appeal more. It becomes hard to see past simply wanting this problem to end.”

This week, new research from Dr Julia Ioane at Massey University revealed the key driver for youth offending among the subjects she interviewed was to get money for food. The resigned tonality of that Herald editorial won’t be particularly comforting for the many, like Ioane, who have worked tirelessly on more ‘whole of society’ approaches to addressing crime but I do wonder if that editorial speaks to something of a weariness and a national mood in this post-pandemic, cost-of-living crisis era.

‘A crackdown with a mild snap rather than a bang’

It’s fair to judge yesterday’s announcement and the timing of all law and order announcements from the government this week within the context of Labour wanting to win an election. Elements, however, were still characteristically Labour. The measures announced yesterday also included an intensive programme to break the cycle for up to 60 recidivist young offenders and an expansion of the successful “Circuit Breaker” fast-track intervention programme. As the Herald’s Claire Trevett writes (paywalled), yesterday’s announcement:

“Sets up a nuanced and staged approach to dealing with youth offenders, rather than putting all through the same processes – from those for whom a telling-off from the parents will set them right, to those who need to confront more consequences. It was delivered in a way in which Hipkins emphasised the first port of call would always be to try to get young people “back on the straight and narrow” rather than biffing them into custody.”

The hope for Hipkins she writes, is that it will be viewed as reasonable and effective, “a crackdown with a mild snap rather than a bang.”

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