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ACT wants to put 17 year olds back into adult justice system

ACT New Zealand leader David Seymour
ACT party leader David Seymour says the next government must make victims its focus. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The ACT Party says it will put 17 year olds back into the adult justice system, if it is part of a government after the election.

The law and order policy would reverse a change ACT once supported.

In 2016, the National government raised the youth justice age to 18, instead trying 17 year olds in the youth courts for all but the most serious offences (such as murder, manslaughter, sexual assaults, aggravated robbery, arson, or serious assaults).

"The Youth Court is not a soft option. Instead it offers our best opportunity to break the cycle of reoffending. It's shown that it is effective at reducing crime and holding young offenders to account, by giving them tough but targeted punishments when they commit crime," said then justice minister Amy Adams when the change was announced.

The change came into effect in July 2019.

ACT supported the change, through its confidence and supply agreement with National. Leader David Seymour was ACT's only MP at the time.

But Seymour now said it was a mistake, and it had done nothing to reduce youth offending rates.

Seymoure said politics needed more honesty and if a policy did not work, politicians should be prepared to accept that and change their mind.

"Taking 17 year olds out of the adult justice system has not delivered on its promises. When a policy doesn't work, we should have the courage to change it."

He said there were too many instances of 17 year olds committing "grotesque offences".

"And instead of facing real consequences, they wend their way through the labyrinth of excuses that make up youth justice.

"I think the problem is that 17 year olds have shown that they are capable of committing quite heinous crimes and instead of being treated by the adult system for the worst crimes, as was promised by Amy Adams and National at the time, we see them today in the youth justice system, often over the objections of the Crown prosecutors and get much more lenient sentences than they otherwise would have.

"I just make the point that the way this law was brought about, the thought was that if the offenders were treated differently, somehow we would all be better off. That has turned out not to be true."

He said ACT was confident that National would have the "courage and wisdom" to see that an error was made.

If imprisoned, the offender would be housed in a youth unit, rather than the general prison population.

An ACT spokesperson said the policy was cost neutral.

"There is no difference in cost. Our youth facility was costed in our alternative Budget."