Empowering Rangatahi: Nurturing Potential and Preventing Youth Justice Intervention in Aotearoa

July 24, 2023
Empowering Rangatahi: Nurturing Potential and Preventing Youth Justice Intervention in Aotearoa


Rangatahi, represent the future of Aotearoa. They are vibrant, energetic, and possess immense potential. However, far too many of our rangatahi find themselves engaged with the colonial justice system, resulting in long-lasting consequences. It is imperative that we shift our focus from punitive measures to proactive and preventive approaches that empower rangatahi, allowing them to thrive and contribute positively to our society. By investing in early intervention programs and providing holistic support, we can create an environment that promotes growth, resilience, and a brighter future for our rangatahi.

The Power of Early Intervention

Preventing youth justice intervention begins with recognising the power of early intervention. Instead of waiting for rangatahi to commit offenses, we can proactively address the underlying factors that contribute to their involvement in criminal activities. This entails targeting root causes such as poverty, cultural disconnection, inadequate education, lack or prosocial activities and limited access to opportunities. By redirecting resources towards early intervention programs, we can offer rangatahi a chance to break free from the cycle of disadvantage.

One effective approach is investing in education. By providing quality education, tailored to individual needs and cultural backgrounds, we equip rangatahi with the skills and knowledge necessary for success. Early intervention programs include mentoring, counselling, and community engagement activities, fostering a sense of belonging and positive identity.

Empowering Rather than Criminalizing

Youth justice intervention often perpetuates a harmful cycle, branding rangatahi as criminals rather than nurturing their potential. By shifting our focus to empowering rangatahi, we acknowledge their inherent worth and the positive contributions they can make. Instead of punitive measures, restorative justice practices offer an alternative, emphasizing accountability, healing, and learning from mistakes.

Restorative justice encourages rangatahi to take responsibility for their actions while ensuring they understand the impact of their behaviour on individuals and communities. This approach not only addresses the harm caused but also facilitates personal growth and healing. By involving rangatahi in the decision-making process and providing support networks, we enable them to develop empathy, problem-solving skills, and a sense of personal agency.

Preventing Recidivism:

A key advantage of diverting resources from youth justice intervention to preventive measures is a significant reduction in recidivism rates. Instead of perpetuating a revolving door of reoffending, we can break the cycle by providing comprehensive support systems. This includes mental health services, drug and alcohol programs, and training opportunities. By addressing the underlying issues that contribute to criminal behaviour, we empower rangatahi to make positive choices, reducing their likelihood of reoffending.

Early prevention includes promoting positive youth development through the provision of safe spaces – Kimi Manaakitanga (Kirikiriroa Family Services Trust Youth Hub), prosocial activities, and cultural programs. These avenues not only provide alternatives to criminal activities, they help build resilience, self-esteem, and a strong sense of identity. By embracing rangatahi diversity and Maoritanga, we foster pride and belonging, reducing the appeal of antisocial behaviour.


The future of Aotearoa lies in the hands of our rangatahi. To build a brighter, more inclusive society, we must prioritize their empowerment and well-being over punitive measures. By investing in early intervention, adopting restorative justice practices, and providing comprehensive support systems, we can break the cycle of youth justice intervention and create an environment that nurtures the potential of our young people. Let us embrace rangatahi as agents of positive change, offering them opportunities to thrive, contribute, and shape a better future for all.

Opinion piece written by Dr Nicole Coupe, Pouwhakahaere Matua (Chief Executive) of Kirikiriroa Family Services Trust.

Appears on page 19 of the Sunday Star Times (23/07/2023)