A new way of tackling youth crime is being trialled at Porirua District Court to break the cycle of reoffending.
By Larissa Howie
“Everybody, regardless of age, leaves with a sense of them being heard and understood and that they have been able to participate in the case that is about them,” Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker said.
Separating 18- to 25-year-olds out of a regular adult court, the Young Adult List aims to address underlying causes of criminal behaviour and offers extra support for people with neuro-disabilities.
Judge John Walker, who is championing the pilot, says neuro-disabilities are common in the Youth Court.
“A high per centage of people coming into all our courts have an acquired brain injury. In the district courts it's as high as 40 per cent,” he said.
A report released last year by Chief Science Advisor to the Justice Sector Dr Ian Lambie highlights the high number of people with neuro-disabilities in Youth Justice Facilities.
It states assessments of 10- to 18-year-olds in an Australian youth detention found more than 1 in 3 (36 per cent) had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder - all undetected before the research.
“That affects behaviour, It also affects their ability to understand and participate in court,” Judge Walker said.
To facilitate a range of needs, the Young Adult List approach scraps legal jargon, and labels chairs in court to help identify lawyers, prosecutors, and community services.
Expert services are also on hand in the courtroom to provide wrap around support for everything from drug and alcohol addictions, to drivers license applications.
Judge Walker says people coming through the Young Adult List have to do the “hard yards” to deal with what has caused them to commit a crime.
“They're doing community work, they're going to counselling, doing defensive driving courses… It’s actually harder for them,” he said.
Manager of Porirua District Court, Renee Higginson, says the initiative breaks down barriers preventing people from engaging and participating in the court process.
“Before we can even identify if there are any underlying factors in the offending, the participant needs to have a voice… To have a voice they need to understand,” she said.
Engineering apprentice Ray Boland has been through the list, and he says he has learnt his lesson, without being treated like a criminal.
“They're trying to support you as opposed to putting you behind bars,” the 19-year-old said.
Charged with driving under the influence last year, he lost his license and landed in Porirua District Court.
Through the support services in the Young Adult List, he has been put through a defensive driving course so he can obtain a full license and become a safer driver.
Boland does not consider this a soft approach.
“It was my fault so I’ve gotta accept the consequences as they come.”
According to police prosecutor Karen Vaughan, less warrants issued in court, and less matters going to a defended hearing since the initiative began last July.
The Young Adult List is currently in a trial phase and will undergo a review in March.