Marae Based Justice

 The Hon. Phil Goff, Parliamentary Labour Party Spokes-person on Justice

 E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.

 Thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you today. It seems between the time I got the invitation and appearing here on the platform the format and the topic have both changed but I’ll press on regardless with the comments that I wanted to make. I’ve made some indulgences as Tau has done with redefining the topic to suit the sorts of questions that I think we have to address ourselves to. I don’t pretend for a moment to have all of the answers to the questions we should be asking ourselves about Maori justice and about the inadequacies and the shortcomings of the present system. But I want to discuss some concepts and some approaches that I think will take us down the right track

 What I have done first of all is to set out to address in pretty much lay persons’ language just what the concept of justice is all about and what the objectives are of any justice system. I guess when you boil it right down, the essence of justice or the justice system is that it is the means used by society to seek the compliance of all it’s citizens with rules which are set governing our behaviour towards each other. When those rules are broken and when one individual violates the person or the property of another there is an expectation that the justice system will set it right. Now traditionally the state regards the violation of person or property as a breach of the rules and the justice system as requiring the punishment of the offender. Maybe by community service, periodic detention, fine or by imprisonment.  More recently we have seen the emergence of a new philosophy and I think a hopeful philosophy for the future and you will hear more about this tomorrow and that is the concept of restorative justice.

 Restorative justice places less emphasis on the breaking of the rules and more emphasis on the offender setting things right for the victim, in so far as things can be set right. Restorative justice I think is a more positive way of looking at our justice system because it brings the victim into the centre of the process where the victim belongs whereas our traditional justice system has regarded the victim almost as a by product of the system to stand to one side while the state has its way with the offender. What restorative justice may result in is an expression of contrition or apology by the offender, the payment of compensation to the victim and maybe the payment of compensation by the offender to wider society.

 One thing that we think about when we think about the concept of justice is the thought that justice is something which ought equally to apply to all - no one is above the rule of law. Under the law, all of us, regardless of power, of status, of wealth, race or creed ought to have equal rights and equal responsibilities. A serious criminal offence is no lesser nor greater because of the ethnicity of the offender or the victim. If I can just divert on the question of the Race Relations Office, no racial slur is better or worse depending on the ethnicity of the person that made that slur or against whom that slur might have been made. There are some things about the justice system that will be totally blind to differences in power, status, ethnicity, or any of the other factors. Another is that our justice system will continue to sentence to imprisonment if the need is to incapacitate a dangerous person or to punish someone for a serious violent crime such as murder or rape. The aim to set things right for the victim by placing requirements from the offender to do so also should apply, regardless of any of the characteristics of the offender, or for that matter the victim.

 However there is an area where differences in background do need to be taken into account if our justice system is to get it right. The other aim of sentencing of course, is the rehabilitation of the offender i.e. an endeavour to change his behaviour or attitudes and to prevent that person from re-offending. Obviously if we are looking at a justice system that works for people and works to prevent new victims, we need to regard the background characteristics of the offender as relevant in terms of how and sometimes where a sentence might be carried out. For habilitation or rehabilitation to work the solutions need to be relevant to the problems which the system is seeking to address. In this area we should be seeking to put in place a range of options with judgment of those options and their subsequent expansion or termination based on whether or not they work.

 We are just about into the electoral silly season. (we are probably into it already) where the law and order drum will beat fiercely and loudly for sometime to come. What we ought to judge proposals on, is not whether they sound good, whether they make the wider public feel good, that the system is getting tough or doing the appropriate thing or not, but rather as to whether those measures work. If measures do not work (no matter how good they sound in theory or in rhetoric) we need to discard them. If we experiment, if we are innovative, if we try new ways we will discover some measures that produce better results for society as a whole, for the victim, and for the offender and those are what we should be giving our support to.

 The second thing I want to do in relation to the topic set is to examine the question of Maori over-representation in the justice system. I took the occasion to read the briefing notes provided by the Ministry of Justice to the incoming minister in 1996. They included statistics about the proportion of Maori in our criminal justice system. The Minister probably would not have been shocked by them but only because they were not new. High levels of offending by Maori being processed by the criminal justice system were described as constituting and I quote “the most important single issue for that system”.  I wonder if that is or was the most important single issue whether we have put the time and energy and resources into addressing that issue over the last three years or indeed any time before that.

 A highly disproportionate number of Maori come to the attention of the police. Imprisonment rates per capita for Maori are several times higher than that for Pakeha. The 1995 prison census showed slightly more than half of male inmates were Maori, and 56% of female inmates were Maori. Maori of course make up merely 14- 15% of the overall population. Those inmate figures have multiplied from 1950 when Maori made up only 18% of the inmate population. The increase since that time has often been related to the rapid urbanisation of Maori over that period and the disruptive effect that has had on the cohesiveness of social structures, family and iwi.

 The Ministry’s prediction in 1996 was that the trend would continue to worsen because of the strong Maori juvenile cohort effect coming through.  Having described the problem let us now consider in the latter part of my comments how we might seek to address it.

 The next section I headed was “Prevention is a hell of a lot better than cure”. Talking about addressing the problem of Maori over-representation in the justice system through marae justice is to start by addressing the problem from the wrong end. The first priority must be to address the causes of why Maori are over-represented within that system. In that regard, some critical statistics were released to the country last month by the Children Young Person and their Families Agency, what they showed was that last year, children classified as Maori or part-Maori accounted for 48% of child abuse and neglect findings by the agency i.e. more than 10,000 children subject to abuse and neglect sufficiently serious to come to the attention of the agency (and that’s only those cases that were discovered.) The reality the agency said is that Maori children are more likely to be abused and neglected than anyone else.

 What we know about major research done in this country is that there is a very close correlation between what children suffer by way of abuse and neglect in the earliest years of their life and their subsequent development and their appearance in criminal offending and other social problem statistics. There are two studies that have been done in New Zealand, one in Christchurch, one in Dunedin. Each independently followed a grouping of a thousand children from birth through now to their mid to late 20’s.

 What that showed was that children subject to abuse and neglect were, literally one hundred times more likely to appear in criminal offending statistics but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Those same children were many, many times more likely to appear in later statistics dealing with solvent, drug and alcohol abuse, dealing with teenage pregnancy, dealing with early school drop-out, unemployment, and long-term dependency. And the frightening thing about the information provided in those statistics was that in most cases those running the research project could identify from age three which were the children that were going to be in those criminal statistics. You think of your mokopuna at age three and then comprehend the awfulness of a situation where a child, before that child has any control over their own destiny is almost predestined to end up as part of our criminal justice statistics. What we need in this country before anything else is early intervention programmes, we are seeing the start of those programmes i.e. Tupu Ora in the Waikato. We have seen the early-start programme in Christchurch that is critical to breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect.

 So too, must we address the wider social and economic problems which have affected Maoridom disproportionately as they have most other indigenous people that have been subject to oppression by majority cultures in other parts of the world.  Education, employment and income are other relevant factors which affect social alienation, disadvantage and criminal offending. Only when we address those causes will we start to see a real change in the system.

 Finally Mr Chairman, my last section is just to touch briefly on a couple of examples I know of where successful culture or marae based initiatives have worked for rehabilitation. The first is Te Whanua Awhina at the Hoani Waititi Marae in West Auckland, a relatively recent programme set up in 1996 in collaboration with the police and the local Safer Community Councils. That evaluation has now been completed and is a very positive evaluation. What happens is that the court diverts the person to be seen before a community-based panel on their offending, before their own Maori community, together with their family and whanau and their victims. Something that actually doesn’t happen in court. You are not confronted in that way with the consequences of what you have done.

 The second focus which is called Embrace is about reintegrating the offender back into whanau and the Maori community, and finding employment and a place in society.  Plans are made in the presence of family. They include attendance on programmes, they include recompense for the victim and the community. More than two-thirds of those plans were completed to the satisfaction of police and courts and the data on re-convictions shows that there was significantly less re-conviction by those that went on this programme (33% compared to another controlled group of the same sort of offenders which was 47%). Investment in the programme produced better and more humane results. It produced savings in terms of money not wasted within the corrections system and it produced results (most importantly) that showed a reduction in re- offending.

 The second programme I would like to touch on and give credit to is the New Life Akoranga Wananga programme run by the Mahi Tahi Trust. This works both in and outside the prisons by systematically seeking to change criminal behaviour through an approach deeply rooted in a Maori world-view. Its effects were to make inmates more responsive to management and more receptive to rehabilitative programmes. The results again have been shown in a lower propensity to re-offend. All of these programmes of course may involve a fancy way of saying what Jack Hobson the former governor of the Paremoremo Prison said to me many years ago when I was a young student and we were going through the prison.  We asked him “could you actually change an inmate?” and Jack replied in this way “Son, there are only three things that change people in here.They either find a good woman, they find religion or they rediscover their culture” It was a rather homespun philosophy, but what Hobson was saying from years of experience as a hard-bitten prison governor is pretty similar to what we are finding what actually works in terms of turning peoples lives around.