New Zealand introduces unique youth justice residence to reduce recidivism
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New Zealand introduces unique youth justice residence to reduce recidivism

New Zealand announced a unique new youth justice residence on Sunday. The residence, called Whakatakapokai, has been designed by both the iwi Waikato-Tainui and the government. Whakatakapokai aims to support rangatahi (young persons) and reduce recidivism rates among rangatahi.

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis stated that Whakatakapokai will “provide prevention, healing, and rehabilitation services for both young people and their whānau.” Whakatakapokai has the capacity to provide such services to 15 rangatahi. Services will predominantly be available for rangatahi sentenced or remanded by the Youth Court, a specialized division of the District Court dealing with serious offenses excluding homicide. Most persons tried in the Youth Court are aged between 14 and 17, but persons aged 12-17 can appear before the Youth Court given the youth justice age was raised to 18 in 2018. In some circumstances, Whakatakapokai will also provide services for persons remanded or sentenced by the standard courts.

There are four existing youth justice residences in the country, located in South Auckland, Rotorua, Palmerston North and Christchurch. They are designed to enable youth with a history of offending to turn their lives around. They provide a range of support to improve employment opportunities and combat drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and dispositions to anger while the rangatahi continue schooling or other training.

Whakatakapokai offers a unique experience for five reasons noted by Davis. First, stronger whānau engagement. Secondly, Mātauranga Māori-inclusive education and health services. Thirdly, mana whenua are involved at all levels. Fourthly, incorporation of specialist positions to best support rangatahi. Fifthly, Whakatakapokai is smaller than the existing youth justice residences.

Davis commented:

Our Government is focused on improving care and assistance for those young people most in need, and doing things differently to reduce reoffending. Whakatakapokai will offer intensive, wraparound support for rangatahi, which will help them once they return to their families and communities. This has the potential to reduce reoffending significantly, helping young people get out of the system for good.

Reducing recidivism among rangatahi is desirable given the concerning current rates. 45 percent of rangatahi who appeared in the Youth Court aged between 14 and 16 in 2016 and 2017 reoffended within one year.

An opening ceremony was conducted at Whakatakapokai, in South Auckland, on Sunday. It is open to both male and female rangatahi.