Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The war on youth crime

John Key's speech.

I am genuinely pleased Key focussed on young, problem people although I think Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft's provided estimate of 1,000 hardened types is a self-deception.

This speech, however, hails the era of the big-state conservatives. Yes, it is full of references to private providers, but the funding comes from the taxpayer. It is replete with commitment to new funding. The Youth Guarantee (free education for 16-17 year-olds outside of state schools), specific catering for teenage parents (one assumes on top of the current provision for around 600), drug and alcohol rehab programmes, mentoring programmes, more youth residential facilities (necessary if sentences are to be lengthened - we only have 3 currently), supervision with activity, Fresh Start programmes to last up to one year using mentors, social workers (of which there is a shortage), the army and others.

Now it may be that the big-spending conservative is more effective than the big-spending left liberal. We shall see. But people wanting less government (more has never been shown to improve matters) will not receive this speech with joyful enthusiasm.

The move to allow the Youth Court to deal with 12 and 13 year-olds (instead of the Family Court) is an improvement. But the power to issue parenting orders - send parents to parenting courses - is worthless. Why? Because the penalty for not complying is community work or fines. Many of these parents will have already shown a finger to both for other misdemeanours. These troublesome kids are more often than not children of criminals. Note, just a few minutes later Key says he is sick of hearing about young offenders who receive community based sentences but fail to comply. That behaviour isn't confined to youth.

What Key is announcing here is the war on youth crime. Yet another campaign akin to the war on poverty and the war on drugs. Neither has seen a victory for the state.

And I think that Clark will pull him apart on 1/ so much extra spending along with tax cuts, 2/ the fact that under National (but not under Key) the numbers of teens sitting around "filling their days with nothing but Playstation and TV soaps" was far greater and 3/ on paper, Labour have monstered unemployment, including youth, while National failed. I don't necessarily agree with these arguments but they are some I predict she will use.

But, I am going to give Key a B for effort. He is clearly listening to people who work with these young people. And no political party, no advocacy group and no individual can supply a perfect or painless solution.

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