Youth justice pathways

Published: July 6, 2021 · Updated: August 16, 2022

This analysis explores the pathways young people take to the youth justice system, provides insight into what their wellbeing indicators and outcomes look like before, during and after youth justice involvement, and explores how they compare with people who had no youth justice involvement.

Key findings

The report looks at people in New Zealand born between 1993-2002 and divides them into 4 groups representing lifetime statutory involvement with care and protection and youth justice. The 4 groups are: the “crossover” group (those with involvement in both youth justice and care and protection), the “youth justice only” group, the “care and protection only” group and the “no involvement group”

The key findings detailed in the report are:

  • The crossover group are the most vulnerable, followed by the youth justice only group and then the care and protection group. Although the crossover group is the most vulnerable, it is also the smallest (around 2% of the population).
  • Young people involved in youth justice deal with a range of complex factors and often have contact with many government agencies years before entering youth justice. This suggests there is an opportunity for early cross-agency support.
  • The interaction of these factors may explain some of the drivers of offending behaviour. In the years before a young person’s first youth justice family group conference the majority had been the subject of a care and protection report of concern; around half had been truant from school at some point in their life; and rates of mental health and substance use treatment appeared higher.
  • The crossover group also have poorer wellbeing at age 17 and are more likely to go onto adult correctional involvement than the rest of the population. In the year before turning 17 the crossover group were more likely to have committed an offence than other groups and more likely to have been in a youth justice placement than the youth justice only group. They were also more likely to have been in an out of home care and protection placement.
  • The crossover group experience higher rates of imprisonment than other groups. However, it is important to note that not everyone in this group will end up in prison or on community sentence as an adult. Almost 40% of the crossover group did not have any correctional involvement between the ages of 17 and 21.
  • Interaction with care and protection does not place children and young people on the path to offending. Over half of those involved with care and protection do not offend as adults - whereas over 80% of those involved in youth justice offend as adults. Those that did offend between the ages of 17 and 21 offended less often on average than those involved in youth justice.
  • The vast majority (85%) of the care and protection only group did not receive a corrections sentence by the age of 22. Of the 15% that did receive a sentence, only 2% received a prison sentence. The care and protection only group were, however, more likely to receive a corrections sentence than people who had no statutory involvement with either the youth justice or care and protection system. 
  • The care and protection only group generally experience some positive indicators of wellbeing in early adulthood, in particular when compared to those involved in youth justice. For example, 36% of the care and protection only group received mental health treatment, compared to 67% of those in the crossover group. They are also more likely to have achieved NCEA level 2 or higher (60% compared to 38%).

Next steps

A one-pager covering the work underway in youth justice that supports and/or responds to the findings in this analysis can be found below.