Minister Martin: Police cells are no place for children

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In 2018, almost 200 young people were held in police cells for periods of more than 24 hours. In some cases it was up to seven days. Last year there were almost twice as many young people in police cells for more than 24 hours than there were in 2014.

Recent reports and first-hand testimony indicate that kids experiences in police cells compound existing issues they face or create new mental health, social, emotional and wellbeing problems.

We all want children in Aotearoa to be able to flourish. For that to happen we need to support those 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 families need help [1].

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. [2] 80% of those kids were estimated to be Māori, who are already drastically over-represented in our youth and adult justice system.

Holding kids in police cells is not an inevitability or necessity. It is the consequence of politicians failing to prioritise the wellbeing of young people. Our government can and must act more quickly to build community based alternatives, like the new community home Mahuru, run by Ngāpuhi social services in Northland. [3]

Police cells are an extremely unsafe environment for young people held on remand. In many cases, they are subjected to solitary confinement, inadequate food and hygiene, and lights that are never turned off. 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 distressing experience.

One young person said 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.”* [4]

This doesn't need to keep happening.

Join JustSpeak and Amnesty International – urge Tracey Martin to enact institutional reforms to bring New Zealand’s treatment of kids in custody in line with global human rights standards. 


[1] Youth Justice Indicators Summary Report 2019



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