Child Youth and Family (CYF) wants to close the South Island’s only female youth justice residence to increase capacity in the North Island.
The proposal is being met with strong opposition, with concerns raised about teenage offenders absconding while travelling to facilities and the effect on young women being hours away from families.
The Press revealed last month CYF was consulting with staff on a proposal to reduce bed capacity by 10 across its four youth justice residences in response to a drop in youth crime, court appearances and initiatives to keep youth out of custody.
The residences in South Auckland, Rotorua, Palmerston North and Christchurch have the capacity to hold 140 youth arrested and put in CYF care before a court hearing, remanded in custody or given a custodial sentence.
Documents show CYF wants to “mothball” the South Island’s only 10-bed female unit at Christchurch’s Te Puna Wai o Tuhinapo facility and change a male unit at either the Rotorua or Palmerston North into a female unit.
It is unclear how many jobs may be affected. In the proposal, CYF argued the Christchurch female unit housed on average six residents, four of which were from the North Island.
The Public Service Association (PSA), which represents 380 staff working in CYF residences, said in a submission the two-stage change was “seemingly without a full analysis of the practical and financial implications”.
A source involved with the submission said mothballing Christchurch’s female beds left “nowhere for young women to go” in the South Island.
Risks were associated with escorting young offenders around the country, she said.
“We are really concerned about the opportunity of absconding when they are not in a secure premises.”
The PSA submission said direct flights from South Island towns may not be available to some centres, which could result in long road trips or two-part flights.
Labour children’s spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern called the proposal “short-sighted”, saying there needed to be bed capacity when youth offending unexpectedly spiked.
“If you’re going to bring the beds back online as soon as there is demand, that takes time, and we don’t want to have young people in situations where they are in inappropriate facilities, such as police cells,” she said.
In another submission, the National Union of Public Employees believed it was a cost-saving exercise and was concerned the units were too focused on remand cases, instead of “changing behaviours”.
The submission said Christchurch’s female unit had become a place where “girls can be girls” and “put down the facade”.
– The Press