JustSpeak launches an open letter calling for the youth justice system to include 17-year-olds

Today JustSpeak launched an open letter to Prime Minister John Key and justice sector Ministers Judith Collins, Anne Tolley and Chester Borrows calling for the youth justice system to include 17-year-olds. Currently, 17-year-olds are treated as adults within our criminal justice system.

“17-year-olds can’t vote, buy alcohol or tobacco, or enlist in the military without consent,” says JustSpeak spokesperson Lydia Nobbs.

“The basis for these laws is that until 18, it is not appropriate to treat 17-year-olds as adults because they need guidance and protection. The same goes for the criminal justice system.”

“17-year-olds shouldn’t be tried in adult courts or held in adult prisons where they are exposed to more experienced offenders.”

The open letter was signed and launched today by 150 young people at JustSpeak’s annual Camp at Pipitea Marae in Wellington.

JustSpeak announced initial support for their open letter from UNICEF, World Vision, YouthLaw, the Howard League for Penal Reform Wellington, lawyer Moana Jackson, and youth law and criminology experts Professor John Pratt, Dr Nessa Lynch, and Dr Tracey McIntosh.

“Including 17-year-olds within the youth justice system is broadly supported by justice sector NGOs and experts,” says JustSpeak spokesperson Lydia Nobbs.

“New Zealand has a world leading youth justice system that is specifically designed to deal with young offenders. It holds young offenders accountable for their actions, while involving families in decisions and providing better options for rehabilitation.”

“The evidence shows that the youth justice system gets better outcomes than the adult justice system for victims, offenders, their families and the wider community. It costs the taxpayer less than the adult system and means our communities are safer.”

“There were approximately 10,000 apprehensions of 17-year-olds in 2012, so we know this change will make a difference to thousands of young people.”

JustSpeak will be building support for this policy change among NGOs, experts, and community and sporting leaders over the coming months, before presenting this letter to Ministers.

An ‘apprehension’ means that a person has been dealt with by the Police in some manner (eg a warning, prosecution, referral to youth justice family group conference) to resolve an offence. Apprehensions do not count distinct individuals, as a person apprehended for multiple offences will be counted multiple times in the data.

To view the open letter see our Letters section.