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The Wire: Is youth crime really an epidemic?

5:00pm on 11 May 2022

Interview by Emilia Sullivan, Adapted by Jack Horsnell 

Listen to the full interview

Recently in the media, there has been an uptick of stories of youths committing crimes, such as ram raids and burglaries.

This has caused concern that New Zealand is facing a once in a lifetime surge of youth offending.

However, statistics show that reported youth crime has dropped by about 65% over the past decade.

Dr Ronald Kramer, a senior criminology lecturer at the University of Auckland, told The Wire's Emilia Sullivan that while it may seem like youth crime is rising, it's actually falling.

Dr Kramer says that when the media looks at crimes committed, they fail to look at the actual reasons for spikes in offending.

"I think that one of the problems with talking about youth offending is that it's too broad a category, so it's effectively meaningless. There's a lot of things that build the crime rate concerning youth offending and a lot of particular behaviours that go into that."

He believes that what we are seeing now is a "novel variation" of regular youth crime that has been committed for years.  

"I would hardly call it an epidemic," says Dr Kramer. 

Some pundits have argued that constantly covering youth crime in the media will create copy-cats. Kramer has a different outlook.  

He believes that if as many copy-cats appeared as the media says, we would be seeing much more crime.  

"It is not a theory that is well substantiated," he says. 

Dr Kramer also responded to accusations made by the opposition that the government is too soft on crime, calling this argument "rubbish".

He says there is no evidence of the government being too soft on crime. 

"We already live in a punitive society. You get these calls every time something like this happens. There's this knee-jerk reaction, calls for increased sentences, to make punishment harsher."

"We've had this for the last 50 years, and it hasn't worked. It's really just conservative rhetoric at the end of the day," he says.  

The government recently announced a budget of more than $550 million to help stop crime.

This includes more police officers and support for businesses at risk from crimes like ram-raids.  

​Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.