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The number of teens being locked up by police has plummeted, new figures reveal.
According to police data, the number of times youths were held in custody for more than 24 hours dropped from 323 in 2016-17, to 75 in 2020-21.
In the Southern district, the number of instances fell from 15 to eight over the same period.
Police say a push to keep young people out of the criminal justice system has led to the drop.
Community partnerships and prevention director Superintendent Eric Tibbott said in recent years, police had focused on increasing alternative resolutions, through initiatives such as Te Pae Oranga.
There were also more Oranga Tamariki places available, which meant police cells were no longer the only option, he said.
The reason young people offended were complex and varied.
"A lot of the young people police work with have suffered adverse life experiences and are often victims themselves.
"We are acutely aware that children and young people often offend as a reaction to events that occurred or continue to occur in their lives."
Research had shown that approaches conducted outside the formal Youth Court system were more effective in reducing crime, he said.
"Police youth services work with young people and their whanau to improve outcomes for them and to prevent the trajectory into the justice pipeline."
Dunedin barrister and youth advocate Brian Kilkelly said he was pleased with the drop in numbers.
There had been positive changes made across the youth justice system in this area over the past few years, he said.
Youth Court judges were generally flat out refusing to place young people in police custody.
"Generally their view is, as is mine, that a police cell is no place for a young person."
While the changes did not necessarily reduce the risk of some teens reoffending, for others it did have an impact.
He recalled some cases where remanding youths in Oranga Tamariki custody in Dunedin had led to a change in attitude because of the way the facilities were run, Mr Kilkelly said.