Evidence Centre seminar: March 2018

Published: April 23, 2018

'A focus on Youth Justice' featured presentations about current Youth Justice research and cross-agency initiatives. 

A focus on Youth Justice

The seminar featured two presentations: 'What's behind the demand for remand', presented by Philip Spiers, and 'Youth in Corrections and the Youth Crime Action Plan', presented by Dr Ashley Shearar.

The event attracted interest from government, the NGO sector and researchers.

The presentations are linked to this page, and the seminar videos are below.

Seminar video


What’s behind the demand for remand – video transcript

Philip Spiers – Senior Research Analyst, Oranga Tamariki Evidence Centre:

Thanks for coming everyone. I'm going to present the results of research I carried out in the later part of last year and earlier this year on youth remand trends.

Before getting into that I'll define for those of you less familiar with Youth Justice what I mean by remand, and also why we're particularly interested in remand, in custodial in particular. I'll also talk about some of the initiatives currently happening within Oranga Tamariki.

So, when a young person has been arrested by Police and appears in court, remands referring to the custody and release arrangements made between each court hearing, there's five options available to the Youth Court: The young person can be released without conditions other than to appear in court when required, the young person can be bailed with specific conditions they must adhere to, they can be delivered into the custody of a named person, who can be a parent, guardian, caregiver, or some other person nominated by the Chief Executive, there's detention in the custody of the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki, and detention in Police custody where the young person will be held in police cells.

So, why are we interested in remand, and custodial remanded in particular?

Well, at a very fundamental human rights perspective there's the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [UNCROC], that says that children under the age of 18 years should be treated differently because of their age and level of development, and Article 37 in UNCROC says that — or to paraphrase — detention of a child shall be a measure of last resort and should be used for this shortest appropriate period of time.

The Oranga Tamariki Act, the main or the principal act for dealing with children and young people who offend, has a key principle in it that young people should be kept in the community as much as possible, and consonant with public safety, and finally the Expert Advisory Panel [EAP] who reviewed the Care and Protection and Youth Justice systems and recommended a new operating model for Oranga Tamariki in the youth justice area they touched on the negative aspects of residential care which one of which the UN refer to as "criminal contamination,” mixing very young, inexperienced offenders with older experienced offenders leads to bad future results in terms of offending. So the the EAP recommended that future Youth Justice services should try and reduce the number of people remanded to secure Youth Justice residences.

Just to give you a picture of the current state of our residences, we've got four residences around the country three in the North Island one in the South Island. The maximum capacity is probably in the number of people in this room — about 140 Youth Justice beds and 6 Criminal Justice beds. At the present time, 75% of those beds are occupied by young people on remand and only 25% have been sentenced to supervision with residence. And as a point of reference, in the adult system those figures are the other way round — 29% of adults in prison are on remand and 71% are sentenced.

Another one of the reasons why we're particularly interested in custodial remand at the moment, you can see the red flashing light on the right hand side there — 17 year olds coming into the Youth Justice system from the middle of next year. At the moment, given the predictions of volumes, they aren't going to fit in that tiny gap there, and so inevitably there’s going to be many 17 year olds who will be held in youth wings of adult prisons and I think Ashley's going to touch on that in her presentation.

So, after the EAP report recommended a focus on reducing custodial remand, well that was one of the key priority areas for Oranga Tamariki and it's also a priority area in the Youth Crime Action Plan, so this research I'm talking about today was commissioned to inform options, ways we could reduce custodial remand, and some of the questions that I was asked to look at listed there.

It should be noted that inevitably with quantitative research you do answer a lot of questions but you also raise a lot more questions, and this research did that — and I'll talk about some of those as I go through the presentation.

To do this research I brought together data from three agencies. The core data I used for the analysis was from the Ministry of Justice, it was all cases commencing in the youth court over a five-year period, of which there are around 10,000. They provided information on remand decisions and offences, outcomes, etc. I also, for that cohort of 10,000 cases obtained data from Police on offending histories, so I could look at offending while on bail, and also on bail breach incidents, so I could look at compliance with bail condition, and then I used some of our own data to look at where people are placed when they're detained in the custody of the CE.

Ok, there were many challenges with analysing this data.

The core data I used was court cases which are all of the offences or charges that are being dealt with at a point in time for a young person, and while that may sound simple, unfortunately young people reoffend and new offenses come into the picture, and the way I had to join cases was a bit convoluted, but I got there in the end.

One of the things I found when looking at remands is that while two thirds of young people stay on the same type of remand for the whole case, one third had two or more changes in remand. In fact, there were 461 different sequences of remand that people had including, in 1% of cases, ten or more changes in remand so they basically went bail, custody, bail, custody, bail, custody through their court case. The second most common remand type was bail, then custodial remand, followed by bail again. Later on I refer to that as remand sequencing if you're wondering what that term means.

So, onto some results — this shows the type of remand used that the initial court hearing for 2011-12 and 2015-16, and you can see clearly that bail is used in most cases for children and young people appearing in court.

However, custodial remand — the use of it has more than doubled over that five year period from 5% to 11% of cases, and there's also been a small increase in youth held in Police custody at the start of their court cases.

You can see that Section 2381C, where the young person is delivered into the custody of a named person, is very rarely used although most people on bail will be going home to one of those sorts of people. In my report, which you can see when it's published, I break down much of the information by gender, ethnicity, age, and region, so there's an awful lot of detailed information available in the report — too much to touch on here — but I thought I'd just talk about a couple of demographic breakdowns.

The graph on the left shows the proportion of youth detained in custody at the initial hearing by gender, and you can see that both genders experienced more than doubling in the use of detention in custody. And, on the right hand side it shows how the average seriousness of offending has changed and while it's increased for both genders, there's quite a gap between male and female seriousness of offending  and it begs the question, "Why is the use of detention in custody so close for young males and females when there's such a large difference in their average seriousness of the offending?" and it may just be the way the system is responding to young girls having quite complex mental health and abuse histories, and safe accommodation may well be an an issue for them, but you still have to look at whether that is appropriate.

This graph shows the use of detention in custody by region and if you focus on on the right hand map for 2015-16, nationally 14% of people are remanded in custody. But, you can see in Counties Manukau it's double that and 28% in Auckland city — it's also very high and while the average seriousness of offending in those regions is quite high it's also high in other areas where there isn't such a high use of detention in custody. And you can see Tasman stands out with 2% of cases being detained in custody, so obviously that can be done. As I mentioned, remand changes a lot for some people, so it's useful to look at all the remands in cases, and I think the key point here is the custodial remand bars. To me it's quite amazing that in 32% of all court cases involving children and young people involved a remand in custody and Police custody the young people being held in Police cells in 11% of cases in 2015-16.

I think part of that large figure was due to reduced capacity in Youth Justice residences in early 2016, which meant that people were held in police cells for short times until residential beds became available. So, I looked at bail in more detail in this research and data from the Ministry of Justice was available on the bail conditions that are used in cases, and on average people have around four bail conditions imposed and as you can see there often they must live at a specified address, obey a curfew such as not leaving home between 7 o'clock at night and 7:00 a.m. in the morning not to associate with co-offenders or contact victims, or not consume alcohol and drugs. And there's all sorts of other bail conditions that show up around not driving, restriction on travel, not to enter specified premises, etc. and so the data from Police allowed me to look at bail breaches, so how often the Police recorded in their system that they detected a bail breach. I think this is certainly something that needs attention.

In the last year, 69% of all young people on bail had one or more breaches of their bail conditions, and of particular note — the green line in the graph which shows that the proportion of youth on bail with three or more breaches increased from 22% to 41% and for me it's hard to imagine that that's a reflection of worsening compliance by youth. It may well be a change in Police practice around bail checks. I noticed in the last two years in the Police annual report that the number of bail checks as a performance measure — with the target in 2015-16 being 330,000 bail checks, across the youth and adult systems, which is nine hundred a day, which seems rather a lot. I looked at offending while on bail and the majority of youth on bail don't reoffend, however over the five-year period the 44% did.

If you look at the right hand side of the graph, in 2015-16, 46% of youth committed an offense while on bail and 25% of that was burglary or theft related offences, and 8% were violent offenses, such as injury causing acts or robbery, so in terms of all the offenses committed while on bail over half of them of burglary and theft and around 18% are violent offenses.

So, one of the questions I was asked in the research was "To what extent do bail breaches and reoffending on bail lead to the young person moving from bail to custodial remand?" There are two columns in this graph, the one on the left hand side shows the extent of breaches and reoffending for those people who stayed on bail, and the column on the right shows those for the people who moved to custodial remand and you can see that reoffending and bail breaches occurred in over half the cases, and in fact very few cases didn’t involve breaches or reoffending and while you can't make that causal link the must be a important link there.

There were 6% of cases on the right hand side there, where there didn't appear to be breaches or reoffending so I looked at those more in our CYRAS system and there were breaches occurred in some of those cases that weren't recorded in the Police data but there's also other things that happen that lead to bail ending. For example, young people not turning up to the court appearances and going missing for extended periods of time, and also the young person's behaviour at home, they were violent towards the caregivers, etc. and it made the bail address untenable and they ended up being remanded in custody because of that.

So, there were a number of questions that arose from this research around bail which you can read there.

Essentially, it boils down to whether or not the current use of bail conditions and the enforcement of bail conditions as setting young people up to fail, when in fact, shouldn't they be more focussed on supporting young people to be successful on bail? So, the the Expert Advisory Panel recommended using secure Youth Justice residences less for people remanded in custody and this graph shows where young people are placed when they're detained in the custody of the CE.

The majority are placed in youth justice residences — between 60-70% — but you can see already we are using community placements for around a quarter of young people on custodial remand. The challenge in that is that it's not always sustained when they’re in the community absconding as a criminal offense escaping lawful custody, and obviously reoffending has its consequences, so round about one-fifth of those people remanded into the community ended up being in secure residences, presumably because of absconding or reoffending and I talked about how custodial remand isn't used very much at the start of court cases. And in fact, in when you look at all custodial remands, 60-70% of them follow the young person being on bail and only about 20-30% of them are from the start of the court case, so that is one of the key conclusions from this research, that while bail is used in most cases it's not always sustained, whether it's bail breaches offending while on bail, or other factors, considerable numbers of youth are ending up being remanded in custody — and changing that pattern has the potential to avoid many custodial remands.

I just thought I'd finish up by talking about some initiatives that are happening in Oranga Tamariki.

The Evidence Centre has carried out some qualitative research into remand decision making, they observed cases in the Youth Court and two locations, they had focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders, Oranga Tamariki staff, Police staff, and youth advocates, they also interviewed some young people on remand and two residences, and so we have collected a lot of very useful information around things like participation by youth in decision-making, also key stakeholders views around the remand decision-making process and what could be improved and so a report will be coming out later this year.

One of the ways we're looking to not remand so many people into residences is there's four group remand homes being set up around the country, they can take up to a maximum of 18 young people in total, they use different operating models, there's a mixture of live-in caregivers and Oranga Tamariki staff and there's also different ways that the young people can end up in the homes and for two of them at the moment they are assessed in the residence as the suitability to go into the home. So, those different models will allow some assessment of perhaps what works best. There's a remand options investigation tool being trialled that, when Police oppose bail, this tool was looking to gather information from key people to inform the remand decision and hopefully help better remand decisions to be made, so it's being evaluated — the live prototyping of that's being evaluated.

And finally, there's an initiative underway looking at ways to better support young people to be successful on bail and so that's looking at a wide range of things, including do young people understand what bail means and what bail conditions mean, and the implications of not complying with them making sure more bail support is available to both young person and their family, better risk assessment around potential things that could go wrong, and whether the use of bail conditions is appropriate. And that's the end of the long winding road.

End of transcript.

Youth in Corrections and the Youth Crime Action Plan

Ashley talked about work underway to improve outcomes for youth in Corrections and how working collectively as part of the Youth Crime Action Plan can help to reduce crime committed by children and young people.


Youth in corrections and the youth crime action plan – video transcript

Dr Ashley Shearar – Principal Advisor, Department of Corrections:

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e rau rangatira mā. Tēnā koutou katoa te whare tēnei. Ko Ashley Shearar toku ingoa.

Good morning, everyone. My name is Ashley Shearar and I'm the principal advisor for the youth strategy at Corrections. It's nice to see a few familiar faces here today, and some of you I've had the fortune of working alongside, including my co-presenter Philip Spier.

So, today I'm going to tell you about youth in Corrections and what we're trying to do to improve their outcomes, and I'm also going to tell you about the Youth Crime Action Plan and how our collective efforts have the potential to reduce offending by children and young people from the earliest opportunity and to prevent them from even coming into the Corrections system.

So, when I first took this role I was invited to a forum at the youth unit at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison and during our meeting the unit manager called in a few young men to come and speak to us about their experiences. They'd all four of them spoke about pretty distressing childhoods, they all spoke about how they knew each other from Youth Justice residences, and not one of them spoke about where they saw their futures. After they sat down, I could see one of the young men shuffling around in his seat, I could see our Corrections officer looking over thinking, "oh, here we go, what's happening now..." but he gave him the floor again, and he stood up and he said to us "you know, sometimes you'll see some of us out in the street and you'll ask us how we're doing. And we'll say to you, we're all good, or we're not all good — we're really suffering. And we need you to be loud for us." And so I appreciate the opportunity to be able to do that for them today.

So, before we talk about youth in Corrections, it's important to think about a wider context, and as many of you will be aware Corrections is facing some major challenges at the moment. This has pretty much everything to do with a very rapidly increasing prison population and unprecedented numbers of people in prison.

So, this graph here shows — which was up to the end of 2017 — well it just really clearly demonstrates that. And today we're sitting at about 10,700 people in prison, which also demonstrates how fast that number is rising. So, this undoubtedly puts considerable strain on the whole system, so not just in custody but also for the for the community.

So, where do our young people sit  — and our youth sit — in that mix? Well, over here we can see that we have approximately 1,900 youths in Corrections who are aged under the age of twenty, and around 350 of them on average are in custody at any time, and about 1,500 in the community. But what I find really staggering is if you look at the next age between twenty to twenty-four, these numbers just about quadruple, so that is a really interesting rise in numbers. But, in all of this why even have a focus on youth in Corrections?

A lot of people think that it's just too late, that we’re just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. But, actually what some recent studies into brain science have shown, is that late adolescence is actually a really great opportunity to make a difference for young people, and it's not just because the frontal lobe — which is responsible for things like decision-making and self-regulation and understanding consequences — continues to develop into your mid-twenties. But also, as Dr. Lauren Steinberg and other neuroscientists have found, next to early childhood is a period when the brain has its most neuroplasticity and it undergoes some major re-wiring as a young person's identity formation starts to strengthen and also as they prepare for adulthood.

So, I think this is not just an opportunity but it's also, for us, a really big responsibility to make sure that we're giving young people the right support and guidance to help them to transition into their adulthood. And interestingly, in June 2016, the United States National Institute of Justice published an environmental scan of responses to young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 in their justice system and they were particularly focussed on efforts to reduce recidivism, and what they found was that knowledge of brain development by staff across all disciplines — including in the community —was one of the things that made the biggest difference. This was because it changed their understanding of youth behaviour and it therefore changed the way that they interacted with them.

But, youth in Corrections have a number of factors which affect normal healthy  and these are outlined in this slide.

So, as you can see about 70% — and over 70% percent of youth in Corrections — have either a Care and Protection or Youth Justice history, or both. And just last week we took a sample of 147 of our youth under 20 in custody and 68 percent of them had no recorded education qualifications and we've also identified that 17 to 24 year old male prisoners have our highest rates of diagnosis of current substance abuse disorder, at 55 percent. A recent study into traumatic brain injury in prisons has also found that the majority of males in custody have sustained a head injury — and that is one in five before the age of 15.

And we just recently, as a result of the study, have been doing some screening and in one of our youth units and of 40 young people screened I think we found five who could not recall having a head knock or brain injury of any description. We also —  the Laura Fergusson Trust who has been doing the study with us — came in and did an education session with our young men in the unit and, irrespective of whether there had been identified as having a head injury or not, they reported that their level of functioning — the cognitive functioning — was of the lowest they’d seen, irrespective. So, this is about the other compounding factors like the drug and alcohol abuse, like fetal alcohol syndrome, like abuse and neglect in childhood.

So, what about offending by young people? Actually what we see is that young people's offending is actually pretty prolific. 50% of total lifetime harm is committed by the age of 23, and youth under 20 released from custody from our prisons are 20% more likely to be re-convicted and 15% more likely to be re-imprisoned, compared to any other prison releases. And over here and we can see — this is also a snapshot from 2016/17 financial year — that youth under the age of 20 had the lowest parole rate of any parole population in Corrections and so, out of 159 males only 23% has a successful parole, and zero out of five cases of females. And there could be a few reasons for that but one of the most significant reasons is actually a lot of our young people have nowhere to go and no social support structure.

So, what about our facilities? What are we doing? What are our facilities like to respond to youth? Well, actually in Corrections we have two custodial youth units for 17 year olds and for very vulnerable 18 and 19 year olds and these youth units are based at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison and Christchurch Men's Prison. I should note that we are fortunate to have an arrangement with Oranga Tamariki that for young people under the age of 17 sentenced to imprisonment in the adult Court that typically they remain in a Youth Justice residence rather than coming into a Corrections facility.

So, having noted that there are 70 places across both our youth units and so this means if we recall that there are about 350 young people under the age of 20 in custody, the majority of them actually placed outside of youth units — and that's in the mainstream prison. We have no youth unit placements for young women, and that's because typically the numbers of young women — recalling that our youth units are four seventeen year olds — are really small so that means that we don't have enough numbers to form a unit for a young woman but because we try and separate them from the older adult population they become quite isolated in our system, so that's something we have to be aware of and that other point I've made.

So, this brings me to the Corrections Youth Strategy and I think at this point it’s clear why we need to concentrate on youth and corrections. And in 2013, recognising this, Corrections established a new strategy which had the vision to unlock young people's potential and for young people to leave us educated and employed and with a sense of belonging. And for that we have tried to be aspirational — obviously the vision is broad — and we've tried to anchor ourselves against these three priority areas. We've got some which are forming some of our solid building blocks, so we're trying to establish our youth units as centres of excellence, we’re trying to support our staff, particular youth champions, to have exceptional engagement and that is with the strong focus and understanding of brain development and equipping our staff with the skills to interact effectively with our young people, and we aim to have world leading rehabilitation and reintegration services. And actually, we've been quite fortunate in recent times and just particularly since last year in securing funding to to start to try and improve outcomes for young people so already since 2013 we've been able to train almost 300 frontline staff as youth champions, and that's across all our frontline roles, and since 2017 we've implemented a new high risk youth rehabilitation program at Christchurch Men's Prison which is called the Mauri Tū Mauri Ora, originally piloted in Korowai Manaaki Youth Justice Residence, we've had a two-year graduated driver license pilot programme across six community Corrections centres in South Auckland targeting young people under the age of 25 and we've had some good success with that — eighty-five young people have achieved their driver’s license in that pilot and that’s with five of those being a full license.

We've also recently introduced new education tutors and soon to be introduced youth activity coordinators in both on youth units, and we're also introducing an intensive youth alcohol and drug programme. Last year we also piloted a healthy relationships programme for our young woman at Auckland's Women's Prison which we are hoping to implement more widely.

And, of course, we're also I’m committed to trying to improve outcomes for young Māori in our system and this is recognising that their identity as Māori is critical to their overall wellbeing and success, and I have to say that most of our recent achievements have been through the leadership of many of our Māori stuff in particular who are able to draw on Te Ao Māori, on Tikanga, and on community connections with providers, iwi, and marai to support young people's reintegration.

So, overall we can't do this on our own, nor should we, and we’ve been fortunate to have some really great opportunities to collaborate with some other providers and community members and being able to have these collaborations helped to create more stimulating environments for our young people and they help to better respond to their needs and aspirations and also to support their reintegration back into the community.

And so just to point out a couple of exciting opportunities that we've had recently: We've introduced the Duke of Edinburgh Award into both our youth units and with young women at Auckland Women's Prison and we have three young men graduating with their gold award next month for the first time so that's quite a good achievement for us, and particularly for them.

We also had a really exciting collaboration last year with St. John's College in Hastings who partnered with our young men in Hawke's Bay Prison as part of their young enterprise scheme, so these are just really great examples of how we can collaborate and make a difference for our young people.

So, this actually brings me to the next part of my presentation which is on the Youth Crime Action Plan and as we can see from if we look at youth in Corrections, there's clearly several opportunities for us to do more, earlier, and this includes across areas like Education and Health. So, the Youth Crime Action Plan was established in October 2013 and it was established as a ten year action plan taking a multi-agency, collective approach to children and young people in the Justice system. This slide here shows all the government agencies who are represented as part of the Youth Crime Action Plan so it was preceded by a period of community consultation, in which agency representatives travelled together from Dunedin to Kaitaia and we listened to a number of frontline staff, community providers, with a strong focus on Māori providers and whānau, to understand how we could improve services in the Youth Justice system. And after we worked through everything that we heard, three areas emerged very clearly for us — and those areas now underpin our actions under the Youth Crime Action Plan. Those are to reduce escalation in the Justice system, to provide early and sustainable exits from the Youth Justice system, and to partner with communities to improve outcomes.

We've managed to achieve some good things in this time; we have established the Youth Crime Action Plan toolkit, which is a toolkit to support partnerships with communities, and to provide information on developing local action plans. We also developed a Kia Mau evaluation tool, for evaluating small scale initiatives at a local level and this was largely because what we heard as well when we were going around talking to communities is that is that there are a lot of providers and community groups who were talking about really great things that they were doing, but they just didn’t have the resources or capacity to be able to evaluate and provide evidence of the good things that they were doing, so we've established a tool to enable them to do that. And we've also continued to consult with communities throughout to see what our successes are and also how we're tracking, and where we need to improve, and this included a youth voice project at the Youth Justice residence in Rotorua. Thanks to Kelsey Brown we were able to get some really great feedback from the young people and this is some of their work, which is actually the originals, I think still showcased in Room 1.3 if you'd like to go and see those.

Of course, many things have happened since the implementation of YCAP not least of all the major change of Child, Youth and Family to Oranga Tamariki which has a direct impact on the Youth Justice system but throughout these changes one of our biggest successes has been to retain our multi-agency steering group and Youth Justice Governance Group with the original agencies still represented, so this has allowed us to remain connected and agile, to provide to provide input and perspectives into these changes.

And another one of our successes has been the development of a Youth Justice Minimum Dataset, which uses data from the Ministry of Justice, Oranga Tamariki, New Zealand Police, and Corrections, and this data set allows us to track how we're doing and to monitor trends. And, as we heard from our previous presentation the good news is that overall offending by young people has dropped significantly over the past few years. Between 2009 and 2016 the offending rate for children and young people has more than halved.

The reducing rate has more than halved, so that's a significant decrease.

But, we still see that the proportionate rate of serious offending has increased and also that the rates of custodial remand in youth justice residences is remaining stubbornly high, so these need to be areas that we focus on and tackle. And of course, another major change which is just on our horizon is including 17 year olds in the Youth Justice system from July 2019 and again this is going to require us to really come together to prepare for that.

If we look at all the things that we've heard today and and we look back at young people in Corrections and the issues that face them, it's clear that doing things from the earliest opportunity will help to reduce reoffending and hopefully prevent young people coming into the Corrections system at all. I often think about that young man who spoke to us at the Hawke's Bay Youth Justice residence and what he said and I remember him being quite a stocky young guy, had a twinkle in his eye, and a bit of a trickster — you could see that — but I admired his courage for standing up and speaking on behalf of other young people and just earlier this week, completely out of the blue, for no related reason, my attention was drawn to him and I saw a recent picture of him, so this was about two years ago that I'd met him, and he must have been about 17 at the time. And in his picture he was gaunt, he had hollow eyes he had no expression, and he had a massive gang insignia tattooed across the middle of his face. And it's a reminder to me that there's still a lot for us to do. And so I'd like to end with a whakatuaki, which I think is relevant to our discussion today but is clearly relevant to most things that we do and that is "naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi."

With your basket and my basket the people will live. No reira tena koutou tena koutou tena koutou katoa.

End of transcript.

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