Tough on crime rhetoric lacks evidence, time for media to let it die / A.J. Hendry

In a recent segment on the AM show, Ryan Bridge, Melissa Chan-Green, and Bernadine Oliver-Kerby took about ten minutes of their show to disparage evidence based policy in regards to addressing Youth Crime.

The takes on display were disappointing.

Ryan spoke about being sick of hearing about the need for holistic, wrap around support, and disparaged comments that poverty and rising inequality were contributing to young people’s involvement in crime. This is despite the overwhelming evidence showing that this i in fact the case. He went on to assert that if you want help in this country you can get it. “We’ve got a welfare system as well”, he said, “If you are truly hard up in this country you can get help.” Again, comments which are not at all reflective of the reality of the situation, and ignore the manner in which our welfare system is intentionally keeping whānau in poverty.

I of course acknowledge that there is a level of frustration within the community, people read the headlines about ram raids and youth crime, and without quality information it is easy to repeat the rhetoric that harsher punishments and more punitive approaches would solve this.

The problem is these takes aren’t backed up by evidence. And yet, the AM show team spent almost ten minutes rubbishing calls for responses that professionals and experts in this space know work.

It raises important questions about the responsibility of the media in driving critical conversations within our society.

Our media has significant influence in shaping the direction of our national debate.

And with that influence comes responsibility. Responsibility to do more than simply drive hysteria and outrage.

Our media have an important role in ensuring our community have access to good information in order to make sense of current events and in doing so move the conversation forward.

I appreciate that the AM show team are not experts in rangatahi development, crime, justice, and how trauma, poverty and inequality have a real impact on our young people’s development.

And so, lacking this expertise, there is a responsibility for the AM show and Newshub to provide balanced, and informed opinions to their audience. Ryan said he’s sick of hearing about the support needed to care for these rangatahi, he said it doesn’t work.

And yet, as a Youth Worker of over a decade, I can confidently tell you that when we have the resources to support and care for our rangatahi and whānau, when our rangatahi have support, are safe, and are provided with the adequate housing and the resources they need to thrive, it works.

We see change. This is not a mere opinion, it’s backed up by evidence. For example Clinical Psycologist Professor Ian Lambie, released research earlier this year outlining the drivers of youth crime, and solutions for preventing rangatahi and tamariki from becoming involved in crime. Again he highlighted that there is a lack of support for rangatahi struggling with complex and coexisting problems, and demonstrated the connection betwen truama, mental illness, disability, and poverty as key reasons some young people become involved in crime.

We also know, that when it is done well, our current approach to addressing Youth crime is working. This multi-agency, wrap around approach that Ryan was so quick to disparage has seen youth crime on a steady decline since 2009.

Where we haven’t been successful in reducing repeat offending is with this group of rangatahi who are experiencing some of the worst inequality Aotearoa has to offer.

And this is the reason we are seeing this crime. It’s because we haven’t dealt with the drivers of this, poverty, inequality, lack of adequate support for rangatahi with disabilities and mental illnesses, housing insecurity and homelessness, these issues are all feeding into what we’re seeing.

We are yet to try adequately addressing them.

 But, you know what we have tried? Being tough on crime!.

And it continues…not…to…work.

The opinions put forward by the AM team have the power to drive government policy. That opinion can be informed and promote solutions, or it can be ill-informed, drive hysteria and create perverse outcomes for people.

If we want to solve these issues, if we want to create safer communities, and prevent crime from occurring, we need to demand better from our media. And we also need to get smart on crime, stop reacting, and start responding.


A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.

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1 thought on “Tough on crime rhetoric lacks evidence, time for media to let it die / A.J. Hendry

  1. Marxist rhetoric such as yours Aaron diminishes personal responsibility and is behind almost all of NZ’s problems. The left need a victim group to vote for them or they will never gain the political power they are obsessed with. So they manufacture a have/have not situation to stir discontent, and you are helping them do this.

    Look back in history or even in different parts of the world today. Crime is not conditional upon poverty but upon personal morality, and the left break down this barrier for political advantage. The cleave children from the moral and religious influence of their parents by means of the public education system and drown them in Marxist ideas from an early age.

    This is why we have crime today at a rate far greater than existed in the more moral past or exists in other more moral countries. You’re not helping. You might think you are, but in reality, by blaming society and not the individual, you’re adding fuel to the fire. (I’ve lived in communities far far poorer than you see in NZ, and crime was minimal)


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