Justice summit and “unless we’re willing to decolonise”

Green MP continues to attract attention on Twitter. On Tuesday she said “We can’t fix our justice system unless we’re willing to decolonise. That begins with handing the mic over to tangata whenua.”

Someone else asked the obvious question: What does willingness to decolonise mean?

Ghahraman:

It means acknowledging this prison industrial syndrome existed before colonisation.

I have no idea what she means by that.

It means prioritising Māori tikanga at every level so tangata whenua have the outcomes they deserve in health, education, employment…Mostly, that they get to say what those systems looks like.

Certainly Māori should have a say in what health, education, employment systems should look like, but those systems have to cater for all New Zealanders – better for Māori for sure, but for everyone else too.

Ghahraman wasn’t the only person referring to colonisation.

Sio is an Labour MP (who migrated to New Zealand from Samoa when he was eight years old).

Sure, the effects of colonisation need to be considered amongst all other factors in which (some) Māori are adversely affected.

But decolonisation?

This was mentioned by two speakers at the justice summit. Newsroom: Systemic concerns outlined at justice summit

Former police officer and Te Puea Marae chairman Hurimoana Dennis…

…spoke about “the big brown elephant in the room” which had in the past been ignored but was now front and centre.

“I have to say I’m extremely encouraged by the language that you’re using, the audacious position that you’ve put yourselves in, and the direction – tena koutou.”

Dennis said one of his concerns was the lack of a consistent strategy by and for Māori across the entire justice system, setting “terms of engagement”.

“We’re talking about a 30-year system focused on punitive and colonial attitudes and now we’re saying we need to change that – this is not going to happen overnight, it will take time.”

Laura O’Connell Rapira, the co-director of ActionStation…

… said the campaign group had carried out a survey on Māori perspectives of the justice system, with 90 percent agreeing that structural racism, colonisation and intergenerational trauma were the reasons for their over-representation in the prison population.

“It speaks to the need for systemic change, really transformative change, and my hope is that is what comes out of this hui because it’s been called for pretty much my whole life from Māori communities.”

Associate Justice Minister Aupito William Sio agreed that colonisation was an issue that could not be ignored, but warned there was no quick fix.

“We’re talking about a 30-year system focused on punitive and colonial attitudes and now we’re saying we need to change that – this is not going to happen overnight, it will take time.”

Justice and prison systems largely based on British systems certainly have flaws and need to be improved, as do outcomes for Māori – not just involving crime, but their whole family and social systems, including education, employment and health.

But the current system can’t just be replaced. It somehow has to be improved, and Māori  need to play a significant role in how that is done.

Talking about the effects of colonisation is important, but  I don’t think that throwing potentially divisive terms like decolonisation into the discussion help. We all have to work together on this, an us and them attitude is unlikely to fix anything.

However as Māori   are a big part of the justice problems, they need to take prominent roles in looking for solutions.

Learning from the past is fine, just blaming the past is unlikely to lead to positive change,.

 

Kelvin Davis on over-representation of Māori in the (prison) system

An often quoted disparity – Māori make up about 15% of the New Zealand population, but make up 52% of the prison population. This is a sign of a number of problems, including poverty and deprivation, unemployment, lack of education, a culture of violence, Māori gangs, and probably policing and justice systems stacked again either or both poorer people and Māori.

Kelvin Davis has been disappointing as deputy Prime Minister, but as Minister of Corrections and Minister for Crown/Māori Relations he may still be able make a significant contribution to the Government (and to Māori and to New Zealand society) if he can work out how to find some solutions and improve on some of this.

 

His speech to the Justice Summit:


Criminal Justice Summit: Plenary discussion on over-representation of Māori in the system

“I had never been hit or abused, until the day the men came to take me away.  I still don’t even know why.”

That’s how Sam began to tell me his story at a marae in Whangarei.

Sam is now 60. The gang patches on his face still vivid.

His life has been spent in and out of prison. But now, he has had enough.

Enough of the violence. Enough of the P. Enough of ‘The Life.’

Sam was just 10 years-old when strangers arrived at his house in Mangere and took him away. His only crime was that he was born into a whānau of 16 children.

They took him away from his home, away from his family, and put him on a train to a boys’ home in Levin.

He had never known abuse or violence in his life until he walked through their doors.

Four years later – and Sam was put on another train and sent back to Auckland.

He told me that when he stepped off the train in Auckland he had changed so much as a person that it no longer felt like home. He felt like he no longer belonged there.

Within two weeks he had joined a gang – a new home, a new family he would remain with for the next 48 years.

When Sam told me his story – in fact when Māori across the country doing time tell me their stories – I can’t help but ask the question:

Why didn’t we do something? As a government, as Māori: Why didn’t we help?

Why are Māori up and down the country more likely to visit the pad than the marae?

And why are whole whānau turning to crime to feed their kids rather than turning to the government for support?

We took that 10 year-old boy – scared and confused – we took him, we threw him into the system and it spat out a broken young man with nowhere to turn but a life in the gang.

Why did we let that happen to Sam? And why do we still refuse to be bold and brave and do something to help people like Sam today?

We take pride in New Zealand as a country that leads the world in many ways.

Whether it’s our sporting achievements, our science and tech innovation, or our film industry. And we should be proud of these things.

But there is an ugly reality in this country. We are a world leader when it comes to putting people in prison.

We can’t seem to get enough of it.

We have the second highest incarceration rate in the world – and a level of imprisonment that is simply devastating our Māori whānau and communities.

You have all seen the statistics.

Roughly 16 per cent of our country’s population are Māori, yet we make up 51 per cent of all people in prison.

It is worse for our women and our young people.

Wāhine Māori make up around 60 per cent of the female prison population and the figure is similar for the number of young Māori offenders doing time on the inside.

It’s not just imprisonment rates.

Our people are over-represented at every stage of the criminal justice system:

In Oranga Tamariki care; in Youth Justice; criminal convictions; in dealings with the Police, and as victims of crime.

It’s not a new problem.

Successive governments have failed to overcome this challenge, let alone accept it as one that we can and must overcome.

This is personal for me.

I look around this room and I see Māori – professionals, public servants, whānau, leaders and iwi representatives – and I know you feel this too.

These are our people I’m talking about. Over half of all prisoners are Māori and about half of these are from my iwi of Ngāpuhi.

In fact, my tribe of Ngāpuhi are probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world per head of population.

I’ve had whānau in prison. I grew up in a street where a number of people living there went to prison. These guys were my mates: I used to build huts with them; swim in the floods with them; we would play in the paddocks together.

That’s not to excuse the offences these people have committed – but something has to be done to reduce the scale of this problem and the sheer waste of human potential.

So, this is very much a personal issue.

And as the Minister of Corrections: I want answers.

There is only so much you can learn from reports and international evidence, patterns, rates and projections.

I wanted to talk to prisoners.

So I have gone up and down the country, brought together groups of Māori inmates and asked them the simple question:

What do we need to do to help you so that when you leave prison you never come back?

And when I talk about ‘We’ – I mean the Government and Māori together.

I don’t know what I expected – but what I didn’t expect was the openness of each man and woman who spoke.

A woman at Wiri told me she had spent her life in and out of prison.

She had violent outbursts and the scars on her wrists told the story of those days when it all got too much.

Then she talked about an anger management course she had just finished.

She said it had changed her life: She can now communicate with her family, regulate her emotions and control her outbursts.

She then asked me: ‘Why couldn’t I have done this course when I was 15? Gee, my life would have been so different’.

I heard similar stories from the men I sat down with in the Special Treatment Unit at Rimutaka.

One of these men told me the rehabilitation programme they were on had taught him he actually had options when he became angry– options other than expressing that anger and frustration as violence.

Another said he had never even thought about or considered his inner feelings and emotions until he was on this programme – because the way he was raised, talking about feelings or showing vulnerability was not acceptable. It was unthinkable.

And all of them told me the same thing: They don’t want this life for their kids.

Then there’s the young Māori man who told me that when he was released from prison all he wanted to do was go home and see his Mum and Dad – but because he had a Non Association Order and his whole family were in a gang – he couldn’t go home.

He said: ‘I get that they take my freedom away because of the crimes I committed. But they took my whānau too’.

Men in prison tell me how much they benefit from Tikanga Māori courses – that it changes their lives when they learn haka, waiata and karakia.

But when that man goes home changed and wanting to live a new life – before he sits down to eat with his whānau he starts to say karakia and his wife and kids look at him like he’s a stranger.

Just last week, an articulate and polite young Māori man – only 18 years-old – had a tattoo scribbled across his face that read: ‘Trust No One’.

I asked him why he got that tattoo and he replied: ‘No one has done nothing for me, and everyone has let me down. My whānau, my friends and the system’.

Those disappointments and failures are now etched on his face as a constant reminder.

And why would he believe any different?

The system is broken.

It’s not working. And our whānau are hurting the most.

If we genuinely want to see fewer Māori caught in the system as both perpetrators and victims of crime, then we need to fundamentally change our approach to criminal justice.

This summit marks the start of this change.

It’s time as a government, it’s time as Māori that we work together to help our people.

In our communities, in our prisons and when they come out.

There had to be dozens of points in Sam’s life when someone could have stepped in.

And in Sam’s case, the one time we did step in, our intervention sent him down the path that ultimately turned him into a gang member – and not just him, but his whānau, and their whānau too.

In the end, we punished a child whose only crime was being born into a family of 16 children, then we sentenced him to a life of crime.

And we need to own that.

It’s our fault he spent nearly half a century in a gang.

If you think Sam is the exception to the rule – you are wrong.

There are 5000 Sams in our prisons. And they include his children, and his grandchildren.

We need to do something together to create a different future for Māori and for their whanau.

We need to break the cycle, connect them to their people, help them, and have hope for them.

And if we accept that there is a need for change – then we must all be part of that.

We – all of us – need to change the system. But we also need to change.

As a government we need to make sure the system helps and does not hurt Māori further.

We need to make sure those who have found their way into the system leave as better people – not broken people.

And when I visit our prisons full of our Māori men and women, I know that – if we are 51 per cent of the problem – then it must be up to us to lead the solution.

But we can only do it with the support of every person in this room.

As Māori we need to take care of our own, rather than closing our doors. We need to face up to and free ourselves from the violence that many of our people, our whānau struggle with.

Here’s where we can learn something from Sam:

When he heard the boys’ home in Levin had closed, he and his wife jumped in the car and drove back to the place where it all started.

He told me it was something he just had to do.

And it was when he was standing outside the gates that he finally broke down and offered his forgiveness.

He forgave the men who took him away; the boys’ home that broke his spirit; the government and the people who turned their backs on him.

He forgave us.

As a gang member you would expect Sam to be hard – to be strong. But one of the strongest things he’s ever done is to forgive us for the life we gave him, his kids, and his grandkids.

I’ll probably never know why Sam trusted me with his story. I was a stranger to him.

What I do know, is that I feel the weight of carrying his story, telling his story and sharing it with all of you.

And I know that we need to write a new story for our people.

So: What are we going to do? That is my question to all of you here today.

Together, how are we going to take up the challenge that others have been too timid, or too hardened or too short-sighted to accept?

What are we going to do to deserve Sam’s forgiveness?

Bridges, Mitchell negative as justice summit progresses

The justice system summit currently under way in Porirua is trying to find ways of doing justice better – something that could certainly do with improvement.

It’s disappointing to see how negative the national opposition is: Simon Bridges dismisses Government justice summit as a ‘talk fest’ – says it will lead to a ‘softening’ of laws

National Party leader Simon Bridges says the Criminal Justice Summit due to begin today is simply a ‘talk fest’ that will likely lead to a “softening” of bail laws.

Justice Minister Andrew Little yesterday told TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme that New Zealand’s prison system is not successfully reintegrating people into society.

“Sixty per cent of those in prison will re-offend within two years of being released,” Mr Little said.

“We’ve had thirty years of the auction of more penalties, more crime, more people in prison but it’s not working, it’s not making us safe.

Mr Bridges, speaking this morning on TVNZ 1’s Breakfast programme, said it sounded like “Andrew Little knows what he wants to achieve out of it” and dismissed it as a “talk fest”.

“He doesn’t want to build more prison beds so he has to cut the prison population by a third,” Mr Bridges said.

“If I thought they were grappling with really hard issues to reduce actual offending, rather than just those prison numbers, and it was rehabilitation, reintegration, I’d go along with it.

“But it seems to me it’s pretty clear what’s going to come out – and that’s softening up the bail laws, the sentencing laws and the parole laws.

National’s justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell has also been critical of the summit.  It would be good to have seen cross party support for doing something about a prison system described by Bill English last year as a “moral and fiscal failure”.

But the summit can work without National.

Newsroom:  Much talk, some action at justice summit’s first day

Ministers laid out the cracks in the criminal justice system on the first day of the Government’s criminal justice summit. Claims that the event would be just another “talkfest” seemed to be initially borne out, but a better balance developed as the day wore on, as Sam Sachdeva reports.

About 700 people attended the first day of the Government’s criminal justice summit, the starting point for what could be years of reforms if ministers have their way.

Justice Minister Andrew Little…

…contrasted the image of New Zealand as a “small, peaceful country with no obvious enemies on our border” against the country’s darker side: record homelessness; grinding poverty; strained mental health and addiction services; and a skyrocketing prison population.

Little said there were fundamental questions about the justice system that needed answering: how to tackle high levels of domestic violence and reduce over-representation of Māori in prison; and how to ensure prisoners get the support they need to reduce their risk of reoffending.

“Many years of public debate and public discussion about criminal justice [have] focused on one thing: how are we going to lock them up and get them out of our way…

“We haven’t much talked in the last 30 years about what we do to change people, at least those who can be changed because they have understandable, identifiable problems and challenges in their lives which with a bit of effort we can turn around.”

Little made a point of singling out the National MPs in attendance despite their publicly expressed concerns about possible reforms, in a sign of the political battle the Government knows it has on its hands.

“If one of the things that we get from the conversation that we get to trigger in these two days is understanding, an agreed understanding about the gaps in national policy, about the way forward, some things we can do better, some things we can do differently, then that will help the debate,” he said.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis…

…asked for a show of hands from those who thought the justice system was perfect – predictably, none were raised – before asking the crowd to “ask hard questions” of the Government and provide ideas for change.

“None of us are precious about what’s going on, and we know things have to change, so we have to have the courage to challenge the status quo.”

Maori imprisonment rates are a significant part of the problem, so Davis needs to step up on this. It will require a lot of consultation with Maori communities.

Police Minister Stuart Nash…

…who on Monday announced the details of where the 1800 extra police funded by the Government would go, said that boost would not mean an equivalent rise in prison numbers as police took new approaches to crime.

“I do believe when I talk to people who are not politically aligned or socially aware, they are uncomfortable with the level of incarceration, they are uncomfortable with the fact that Corrections’ operating budget has increased by a billion dollars a year over the last 12 years, and they’re open and receptive to an alternative vision.”

Parliamentary undersecretary Jan Logie…

…a Green MP who is working under Little on domestic and sexual violence issues – work he described as “profoundly important” – then spoke about the flow-on impact of sexual and family violence on people who then went on to offend themselves, and the need to provide better support services.

Some frustration bubbled over as Logie finished her speech, with an interjector standing up and urging the organisers to “let Māori speak for us”.

“We don’t need to hear some organised speech, a pre-written speech to talk about us,” Anzac Wallace said.

National’s justice spokesman Mark Mitchell…

…seized on the “boilover” as a sign of the Government’s failure to properly plan the summit.

“They feel that there’s been too much talk, too many working groups, no action, and that’s basically what we’ve been saying…this has basically been like a big counselling session, and although these voices are important, this isn’t the right format.”

National had said it would support reforms which made a difference, Mitchell said, but did not support where the Government appeared to be heading.

“At the moment, and this was part of our discussion, fundamentally we’re going down two different tracks: we believe that at the heart of any good criminal justice system, public safety and victims should be at the heart of that.”

Talk and public engagement are important parts of political processes, so long as they lead to significant changes and to improvements.

The proof will be quite a bit further down the track – there are no quick or easy fixes.

Bail law and remand prisoner numbers

A change to bail laws is credited as a significant reason for a rapidly increasing prison population, but a change in approach by judges has also contributed.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has indicated he wants to change the bail laws, but this is a tricky political issue. If bail laws are relaxed it’s certain that any significant crime committed by someone on bail will be publicised as a failure.

Longer prison sentences without adequate mental health and addiction treatment also contributes to high levels of recidivism, but examples of that tend to not be publicised so much by those with tough on crime political motives.

RNZ: Relaxing bail laws: How risky is it?

In April, Justice Minister Andrew Little signalled the bail laws might be changed, as increasing remand numbers have seen the prison population balloon.

However, the families of people murdered by someone on bail want the law to remain as it stands.

Almost 1000 more people a year are now remanded in custody than before the bail laws were tightened in 2013, as a result of the murder of Auckland teenager Christie Marceau in 2011.

Her killer, Akshay Chand, was on bail at the time and living just 300 metres from her home, having already been charged with kidnapping and threatening to stab her.

The sad case of Christie Marceau is often used in arguments in favour of being tougher on people charged with crimes (not tryed or convicted).

But some emphasis does need to be put on protecting people who have been threatened or are at risk of violence.

Dr Liz Gordon a social researcher, who is also president of PILLARS, a group helping prisoners’ families, said the average number of murders in New Zealand each year was about 80.

She said when you put that figure alongside the extra 1000 people remanded in custody, it was an emotional over-reaction to suggest Andrew Little would have blood on his hands if he loosened the bail laws.

But emotional over-reactions can be expected from people with political motives. The ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ plays on fears of crime.

David Farrar ran a series of posts publicising some of the worse criminals who could potentially receive lighter sentences if the 3 strikes law is scrapped – ‘could’ should be emphasised, as judges usually go to great lengths to apply sentences appropriate to both the convictions they are dealing with and the records of the criminals.

“The mathematics simply doesn’t add up. They’re not going to all get out of the prisons and start murdering like mad and if you find good alternatives for them, perhaps you can actually stop them ever having to go to prison again.”

I don’t think anyone is arguing there should be no bail – I remained ‘at large’ despite a private prosecutor’s demands that I be incarcerated.

We have to have non-imprisonment for many offences and offenders. The difficult trick is where to draw the line.

Dr Gordon agrees Akshay Chand should never have got bail, as what he did was a foreseeable crime, but she said Mr Little needed to take a dispassionate view of what was best before making a final decision on the bail laws.

Chand getting bail was an error of judgment – as things turned out, it’s easy to be wise after the subsequent murder. I’m sure some people who have threatened others haven’t murdered while on bail.

Dr Gordon said there were also other downsides to keeping people on remand in jail, particularly younger offenders, as the remand units are active recruitment centres for youth gangs.

Remanding in custody can set up young first time offenders for further offending.

She is also concerned that, despite it costing more than $100 million a year to keep those 1000 extra people remanded in custody, they received no support while there to improve their lives.

If it costs money to protect the public then money needs to be spent. But…

“Those people are in a very difficult position. They often can’t see their children because visiting days for people on remand is often mid-week and the kids can only visit on the weekend.

“They don’t get access to training courses, drug and alcohol treatment and so on because those things aren’t offered most of the time to people on remand because the argument is [they] … aren’t sentenced and therefore can’t be forced to do programmes [so] … it’s not worth offering them to them.”

More secure medical and treatment facilities may be one way of dealing with this. That means more money in the short term.

Andrew Little was approached for comment, but his office said he would not speak about the bail issue until after a justice summit later this year.

Newshub (16 June 2018): ‘Everything is on the table for justice reform’ – Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little says “everything” is on the table when it comes to justice reform, including changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Mr Little said that the current model “isn’t good enough” and the 60 percent reoffending rate within two years points to a “failure” in 30 years of punitive criminal justice policy.

“We will have to look at the parole act, the bail act, and the sentencing council – get some cohesion around our sentencing,

“But I think the real game changer is what we can do inside our prisons, and how we can make it systematic across our prison network.”

National’s Mark Mitchell has strongly criticised the Government’s proposed changes, particularly softening bail laws, saying that 98 percent of prisoners are ‘serious criminals’ who would be a danger if released.

The minister rejected that assertion, saying Mr Mitchell “has his figure wrong”.

“Over half the prisoners who enter the prison system in any one year are there for non-violent [offences], what I would characterise as ‘low-level’ offences.”

The minister says that of the criminals remanded in custody (those who are in prison awaiting trial or sentencing) 59 percent get a custodial sentence – but 41 percent do not.

With the number of prisoners on remand getting close to 2,000 this means about 800 of them will end up not being sentenced to prison. That’s a high number.

“The numbers alone tell you, we’ve calibrated our remand decision-making the wrong way. We are remanding too many in custody.”

That’s how it looks – but it can be difficult predicting which people arrested will end up in prison after conviction.

And it doesn’t take many ‘mistakes’ on bail for there to be high profile publicity – one violent assault would be enough to try to clamp down on bail.

Unfortunately bad crime happens despite the best efforts of the police, the justice system and the Minister of Justice and Parliament.

That justice summit could be interesting.