22 Aug 2018

Heated exchanges at justice forum as govt promises change

7:47 pm on 22 August 2018

The Justice Minister is reassuring victims he is as focussed on them as he is on rehabilitating criminals as tensions boiled over at a justice summit.

Minister for Justice Andrew Little answers media questions before heading into the debating chamber.

Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The conference ended tonight, with Andrew Little promising every idea has been noted.

But with hundreds of people from all different parts of the system in one place, it hasn't been smooth sailing.

The mother of a three-year-old who was murdered broke down in tears when a Māori woman claimed Pākehā did not know what it was like to be victimised.

Jayne Crothall's daughter Brittany was killed in 1997 by a former boarder at their Christchurch home.

She subsequently decided to meet with the man convicted of her daughter's murder, Luke Sibley.

"It was interesting what Jayne said about the trauma she went through and is still feeling, but actually she said one of the important things was being able to confront the offender," Mr Little said.

"That restorative justice approach has to be victim driven... but it's not about either or, it's about how we do both."

It was not the only moment of tension at the conference.

Yesterday, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis was shouted at as he left the stage, due to his comments about young men joining gangs ending up as bad eggs.

But regardless of their views, all of the attendees had a request, a plea, or advice for the government.

One said the country would "reduce recidivism dramatically by using section 27 reports in a more comprehensive way."

That's the part of the Sentencing Act that considers a person's circumstances - like their upbringing - when a sentence is being handed down.

Another attendee was blunt in his demand.

"We have our young men in prison hanging themselves. I implore the government to stand up and take care of it."

ActionStation's Laura O'Connell Rapira spoke about change for Māori in the same break-out session.

"[There] is a 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 entire life from Māori communities."

A big criticism from the National Party before the summit was that it focused too much on criminals at the expense of victims.

That sentiment was echoed by some at the summit this morning.

But Mr Little took the stage before lunch today to dispute that.

"From my point of view as minister of justice, I will not sign off on a programme of reform that does not make meaningful change for victims of crime," he told the crowd.

Mr Little said it's a huge and complex area - which they may look to refine down the track.

"[It] may well be that we look at an opportunity to bring a more victims-focused conference together, to hear that side of the story more clearly."

Many were optimistic this government will break down the barriers needed for change.

"There's lots of motivation, there's lots of energy, and I feel hopeful that something will happen," said a former parole officer.

"I think the conference is great, long overdue," said another attendee.

"All the ministers here, their ears are switched on - that's great - but we'll see what happens in reality," said Marama Parore, a director at Prison Fellowship New Zealand.

Others were more wary, with one long-time public sector worker-turned-consultant, Harry Tam, saying every new Government came in with a plan for justice reform.

"We've had work streams like the effective interventions under the Helen Clark Labour Government, then when National took over we had drivers of crime, and now we have this."

But all agreed the proof would be in what happened in prisons.

"If they don't deliver, this place has been full of activists who have been wanting this stuff for 30, 50, 100 years," said Ken Clearwater, a male victim's advocate.

"They're talking about bringing us along for the ride, so hopefully that happens."

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