To: Hon Tracey Martin, Minister for Children

Keep our kids out of police cells

Keep our kids out of police cells

We are calling on you to protect young people from harm by amending the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 so that no more children are held in police cells.

Why is this important?

Police cells are no place for children.

But under the current law, kids as young as 14 can be held for more than two days in a Police cell once they have appeared in court. In many cases this is not because they pose any risk but because no beds or homes for them are available.

Being held in a police cell for extended periods can quickly lead to physical, mental, and emotional harm, and a real risk of self-harm. A recent news report by Radio New Zealand found that there have been multiple self harm and suicide attempts by kids in police cells every year since 2014.

80% of those kids were estimated to be Māori, who are already drastically over-represented in our youth and adult justice system.

In 2018, almost 200 young people were held in police cells last year for periods of more than 24 hours and, in some cases, up to seven days. The instances of young people in police cells for more than 24 hours also almost doubled from 2014 to 2018.

We all want children and young people in Aotearoa to be able to flourish. For that to happen we need to support young people who are caught up in our youth justice system, the majority of whom have had concerns raised by the Oranga Tamariki that they or their family need help [1].

Holding kids in Police cells is not an inevitability or necessity, but the consequence of politicians failing to prioritise the well being of young people. Our government can and must act more quickly to build community based alternatives, like the new community home Mahuru, run by Ngapuhi social services in Northland. [2]

Police cells are a totally unsafe environment for young people. In many cases they will be subjected to solitary confinement, inadequate food and hygiene and lights on for 24 hours. For kids who are already scared and unsure about what is going to happen to them after being in court or being arrested, this is a really distressing experience.

One young person said about their experience in police cells that it made them feel "solitary – depressed, going crazy, feel like you want to cry and flip out at the same time – just go nuts.”* [2]

This doesn't need to keep happening.

We are calling on the Minister to immediately change the legislation so that our justice system doesn't put any more vulnerable young people at risk.

Instead, the government can and must prioritise community alternatives that will keep young people safe and provide them with the support and skills they need to build a better life.

[1] Youth Justice Indicators Summary Report 2019


[3] Office of the Children's Commissioner, 'Limiting the use of Police cells to hold young people on remand' Position Brief, 2018