23 October 2012
A new review is calling for Police to improve their training and the treatment of young people in custody.
The joint thematic review of young persons in Police detention was conducted by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA), the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and is the first joint review to be done as part of their independent monitoring mandate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in New Zealand.
The review made 24 recommendations including that Police improve conditions of detention and the treatment of young people, improve information provided, Police training and reporting practices, review options for transport arrangements and continue to work with the IPCA, and Child, Youth and Family on reviewing practices.
In releasing the report today IPCA Chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said the importance of treating young people in a fair and humane manner should not be underestimated.
“Detaining young people in Police cells is unfortunately sometimes necessary but it can miss the opportunity for a more constructive response to a young person’s offending,” he said. “We need to focus on preventing and reducing youth offending as well as identifying alternatives to Police detention.”
Last year 213 young people were detained in Police cells for an average of 1.9 days and the report noted that indications were that numbers were again trending upwards.
Judge Carruthers said he hoped the report would help reduce the number of young people being held in Police cells. “We also hope it will help to ensure appropriate attention is paid to their needs and rights while in custody. Improvements can and should be made.”
Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills said the report highlighted some important changes that should be made.
“When young people need to be arrested for their own safety or the safety of others, it’s an opportunity for them to turn their life around. We are not making the most of that at the moment. This kind of intervention is an opportunity to point that life in a different direction. If that doesn’t happen, or worse, if the young person is mistreated or doesn’t know their rights, there are other consequences that follow and they are more likely to reoffend.”
The report noted that some interventions could reduce offending, for instance supported bail, he said. Implementing the report’s recommendations would go a long way towards ensuring more positive results with young people treated appropriately.
“If on the first meeting they are treated respectfully and they’re clear about what’s happening then they’re much more likely to make the right kind of choices. These are young people who are in crisis because of the choices they’re making. They are going to grow up, so how we respond to them at this point can have a very important impact on the kind of adult they become. It’s important not just for them but for society as well.”
Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said detaining young people in custody should always be a last resort. “None of us want to see children in police cells. It’s as simple as that, and this report recommends ways to stop what is at heart an issue of human rights.”
He said the aim of the independent monitoring carried out under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) was prevention. “This report is part of that necessary preventive work. But I want to also commend the actions the New Zealand Police have already taken. Their youth policing programme is founded on the principle of “Prevention First”, which is also the first principle of OPCAT.”