A group of young people are appealing to the public to change their attitudes towards youth offenders.
JustSpeak, a community of young people who seek to encourage a new generation of debate around criminal justice issues with the aim of achieving a more just Aotearoa, held its first forum in Auckland last night on youth offending, with a large crowd coming to discuss the current issues in the way the criminal justice system deals with youth offenders. A major theme from the evening was the need for a shift in public attitude in the way young offenders are treated.
"The message young offenders are constantly fed through the media and wider public is that they are useless, hopeless and a lost cause. These negative messages provide no motivation to stop offending; it simply tells them they are capable of nothing better. For many of these young people, this is a message they have been fed their whole lives," says Diane White, a member of JustSpeak.
JustSpeak calls on the public to stop feeding youth offenders these negative messages, and instead advocates for a more supportive and positive community-based approach to youth offending.
Last night's forum featured Dr Ian Lambie, Director of Clinical Psychology Training at the University of Auckland and a member of the Ministry of Justice Youth Justice Independent Advisory Group; Fa'afete Taito, a University of Auckland student; Dr Julia Ioane, Clinical Psychologist at Safe Network Ltd who recently completed her thesis entitled "A Comparison of Pacific Island Violent Youth Offenders with M?ori and P?lagi Violent Youth Offenders"; and Senior Sergeant Mike Fulcher, District Youth Services Co-ordinator, Counties Manukau Police District.
A common message from all four speakers was the need to build strong families and communities. The vast majority of young people who offend come from dysfunctional and abusive families. All four speakers commented on the need for a wider community approach, where families and individuals are well-supported and can provide a positive, nurturing environment for the upbringing of their children.
A change in public attitude towards youth offenders, and a more supportive, nurturing community would show young people who have not been brought up in a positive environment that there is hope, and that society believes they can succeed.
JustSpeak looks to continue its work in the area of youth offending with the upcoming review of the Youth Offending Strategy. JustSpeak is keen to see government engage with families and communities - especially those overrepresented in youth offending statistics - to see what those communities want, and what those communities think will work.
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