Justice

Māori resolute in calls for total justice reform

Māori have delivered a clear call for widespread justice sector reform, led by Māori, in the hopes this time the Government will listen. Laura Walters reports.

A new report from justice hui representatives is resolute in its calls for total reform of the justice system, once and for all.

The recommendations that emerged from the April hui include the abolition of the current prison system, the disestablishment of Oranga Tamariki, and a genuine partnership between Māori and the Crown – led by Māori – to reform the criminal justice system.

Māori have also called for the Crown to take responsibility for the legacy of colonisation and intergenerational trauma.

The report, which represents the views of more than 200 attendees of the hui, lays out the main themes and issues Māori face within the justice system, and key recommendations for change.

Ināia Tonu Nei (The Time is Now: We Lead, You Follow) has been created as part of the Government’s wider justice system reform programme.

Hui Māori was established following the Safe and Effective Justice Summit held last year, when Māori who attended expressed their frustration by the lack of Māori voice.

What has come out of the hui is a report that says many of the same things that have been said repeatedly, for decades. Some reports calling for change stretch back 30 years.

Themes include the disproportionate harm done to generations of Māori through the colonial justice system, the need for community-based approaches rooted in tikanga Māori and kaupapa Māori, and a call for Māori to take a leading role in reforms.

“We say that anyone who believes that bias does not exist within the justice system does not truly understand the daily injustices faced by Māori in the justice system and we challenge them to engage with us with an open mind and a compassionate heart.”

The report, which was written by hui organisers Tā Mark Solomon and Katie Murray, says the Crown adopted a justice system that was never appropriate for Aotearoa, given its Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership.

“Our tīpuna did not sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi for tamariki to be in care, incarcerated or continually traumatised. Māori have advocated to decolonise the justice system over generations. The justice system continues to be racist and biased,” the report says.

The organisers say successive attempts to reform have not addressed these core issues. Each time the government of the day attempted to make a change, it tinkered at the edges, and the system grew, leaving Māori worse off.

“We heard clearly at Hui Māori that the Crown must take responsibility for the legacy of colonisation and intergenerational trauma that affects whānau today. The lived experience for Māori in the Justice System is that it is racist and it is biased against Māori,” Murray said.

“We say that anyone who believes that bias does not exist within the justice system does not truly understand the daily injustices faced by Māori in the justice system and we challenge them to engage with us with an open mind and a compassionate heart.”

Time to listen and act

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the report was “justifiably bold” but not surprising.

“They are right to call for some quite significant action for change.”

Little said the difference this time around was an increased understanding and acknowledgement of Te Tiriti, it’s place in New Zealand’s constitutional make-up and history, and a Government with greater Māori representation.

“We’re at a point where the Crown cannot be dismissive of the demand for change that is now being made, because that has sadly been the history in the last 30-plus years."

There was also a stronger voice from Māori who were ready to lead this change.

“We’re at a point where the Crown cannot be dismissive of the demand for change that is now being made, because that has sadly been the history in the last 30-plus years," Little said.

“It’s pretty clear that what we’re not getting right - in relation to Māori and Pasifika offenders - is a level of engagement that’s going to fix broken lives….

“I think we’ve gotta accept whatever models we’ve been working on until now, we haven’t got there. Maybe now it is time to start listening to those who have been victims of what has gone wrong. And they might have a few ideas about what to do right.”

One of the core recommendations is the abolition of the current prison system.

While 16 percent of the general population are Māori, 51 percent of the prison population is Māori.

The Government has committed to reducing the prison population by 30 percent in 15 years, but Māori want the Crown to go further.

“Continuing to send whanau to prison is enabling intergenerational trauma that affects more than the justice system; it affects whole communities.”

The report calls for community-based responses to become the default position of the criminal justice system, in order to rebalance the harm done to whānau and communities. This approach is in keeping with the Māori principle of reciprocity, which was used as a form of justice before colonisation.

“Continuing to send whānau to prison is enabling intergenerational trauma that affects more than the justice system; it affects whole communities.”

The hui representatives acknowledged some people would need to be separated from the community for a time, due to the risk to themselves and others, but this type of separation should be a last resort.

Firm deadline

The report comes with an ambitious deadline, calling for the development and implementation of a comprehensive approach to reform the country’s justice system, including abolishing the prison system, by February 2040.

The funding from the Government needed to reflect this approach, the report says.

If 50 percent of those in prison were Māori, then 50 percent of the funding should be put solely towards Māori responses, in these spaces.

Meanwhile, the report also calls for an overhaul of the bail system, saying Māori are disproportionately represented in the remand population, due to a lack of support and housing stability.

Hui representatives also recommend disestablishing Oranga Tamariki and outlawing uplifts at birth.

They say this practice causes trauma to whānau, and Oranga Tamariki does not have the capacity and capability to deliver services in a culturally appropriate way.

“It’s about making sure the response after that is a response that’s going to be beneficial and helpful, not detrimental.”

Little said there was no plan to abolish prisons entirely – there needed to be accountability for causing harm.

“It’s about making sure the response after that is a response that’s going to be beneficial and helpful, not detrimental.”

Rather than dwelling on whether the system should ever have been introduced to New Zealand, it was his job and that of counterparts Kelvin Davis and Stuart Nash to “get under the bonnet” and find a way to work with people to address their demons, and help restore their self-respect and dignity, he said.

Genuine partnership

Solomon said despite the intergenerational hurt being felt by Māori, at Hui Māori there was a strong desire for Māori and the Crown to enter a genuine partnership to design a new justice system for New Zealand.

“The Justice System cannot be reformed without leadership from te ao Māori. The Hui Māori called for the Crown to finally share power with Māori and for Māori-led responses to be central to the reformation of the justice system,” he said.

Work should build on existing relationships, knowledge and programmes that were already working, Solomon said.

“The Crown must let Māori lead in true partnership. If this does not take place now, Aotearoa will lose the opportunity to reform the justice system, and another generation will be affected. Māori have said they cannot wait any longer.”

Tania Sawicki Mead, director of justice reform lobby group JustSpeak said calls for constitutional reform, devolution of power and resources by the Crown to Māori, and an acceleration of change had been made by Māori for decades, and action was overdue.

“Māori perspectives on our justice system have been sidelined for too long, and this report makes crystal clear that work needs to start now to decolonise our justice system and allow Māori to lead the way.”

The call from the hui was crystal clear: urgent work needed to take place to ensure the justice system was fit for purpose and Māori leadership was given priority, she said.

Head of Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora Chester Borrows and Andrew Little say now is the time for widespread reform of a justice system that's failing too many. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw

The report calls for work to start immediately to establish partnerships, accompanied by recommendations for legislative reform of the Sentencing and Bail Acts of 2002 and the Criminal Procedure Act 2011.

This report built on the findings of the recent report He Waka Roimata from Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora (the Justice Advisory Group), which showed that thousands of people across Aotearoa felt that the justice system did not facilitate healing, restoration or prevention of harm. Te Uepū is working on its second report, which is due to go to the minister next month. Meanwhile, a separate report from the victims’ hui held earlier in the year is also expected to be released in August.

Newsroom is powered by the generosity of readers like you, who support our mission to produce fearless, independent and provocative journalism.

Become a Supporter

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

PARTNERS