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March 2009

Churches say don’t scrap youth offenders programme

Church leaders want the government to reconsider its decision to close a successful youth offenders’ programme because it is too expensive.

Anglican bishop Rev David Moxon, Catholic bishop Rev Denis Browne and Methodist superintendent for Waikato-Waiariki Rev Susan Thompson are among those who have called for the Te Hurihanga youth justice facility in Hamilton to remain open.

They urge people to write or email their MPs and government ministers to protest against the decision to shutdown the programme.

Te Hurihanga is a ground-breaking residential unit that houses teenage boys, who have been in serious trouble with the law. It was established three years ago and has provided a rare success in efforts to stop youth re-offending.

Susan Thompson says the non-profit organisation Youth Horizons runs Te Hurihanga. The programme it provides is tailored to the individual needs of the young people and lasts nine to 18 months.

"It is a voluntary programme, it addresses both the needs of the boys and their families, and it includes a period of residence at the Te Hurihanga unit where the boys are under 24-hour supervision and receive therapy and education," Susan says.

"It is a multidisciplinary approach that provides wrap-around support to the boys’ families. It has a strong cultural element, which is very important because many of those who go through the programme are Maori or Pacific Islanders.

"It has received considerable support from Tainui, the Tindal Foundation, and many youth court judges."

Rev Dr Susan Thompson (left) and Karen Morrison-Hume say politics should not lead to the closure of Te Hurihanga.

At the Te Hurihanga live-in facility boys receive education and therapy.
Eight boys at a time can live at Te Hurihanga. The second and third phases of the programme integrate them back into their family and community. Since it began 23 boys have been with the programme. Eight have graduated, 10 are currently enrolled, and five have left before finishing.

At the beginning of February Justice Minister Simon Power said the government would scrap the programme because the cost to run such an intensive programme for a small number of offenders is too great. It will be replaced by a cheaper-per-head-programme run by Child, Youth and Family.

In a letter to Simon Power, Susan wrote working with young offenders to turn their lives around is an very difficult task. International research shows there are no quick-fix solutions.

"Yet in three short years Te Hurihanga has been successful. Yes, the programme is costly in the short term. But such costs are small compared to the human and financial costs of long-term offending.

"The costs of a life-time of welfare support, family dysfunction, recidivist offending, terms in prison and the suffering of the victims of crime are immense and are borne by the whole community."

The Te Hurihanga facility is on Anglican Church land and it is integrated into the Te Ara Hou complex in the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest. Te Ara Hou is a joint initiative of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic social work agencies and Hamilton City Council. It houses 12 social services including Anglican Action, Alternatives to Violence, The Friary, Abbeyfield House, and Catholic Family Support.

Anglican Action missioner Karen Morrison-Hume says it appears the government is making its decisions about Te Hurihanga on political grounds. It will try and pick off some of the successful elements of Te Hurihanga and use them in Social Development Minister Paula Bennett’s Fresh Start programme and the Maori Party’s Whanau Ora programme.

She doubts whether cheaper, mandatory programmes will be as effective, however. And if Te Hurihanga is closed down the experience and intellectual property the staff has built up will be lost.

You can share your views with Paula Bennett and Simon Power by emailing and