13 Dec 2019

Government urged to cede power to Māori - justice advocates

12:28 pm on 13 December 2019

The government is being urged to cede power to Māori so they can find their own solutions to improve the criminal justice system.

Julia Whaipooti at the United Nations

File photo of Julia Whaipooti at the United Nations. Photo: Pikihuia Haenga

Two reports were published yesterday, one by the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group and the other by the Chief Victims Advisor.

Both recommend changes to the system, with an emphasis on 'by Maori for Maori' solutions.

The Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora - Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group is calling for the whole government approach to change.

In its final report out yesterday, it stresses the need to transform the justice system.

Group member Julia Whaipooti said a big part of that was transferring power and resources to Māori to create their own solutions, which Māori had been wanting for decades.

"It's not new, but governments have never listened and Pākehā New Zealand have never listened that we as Māori want to lead decisions and implementations for things that affect Māori," she said.

"For too long, we have fully funded failure. The government pays itself, Corrections and Police pays its own structures to continuously let down Māori."

Whaipooti is talking about what she calls a "conveyer belt of brown men" - in that Māori make up half of those in prison and return at higher rates than non-Māori.

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Justice Minister Andrew Little Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Justice Minister Andrew Little said the government was committed to transformational change but it would be a slow process.

However, Te Uepū member and criminologist Tracey McIntosh said it could not wait.

"The devastation that our current justice system produces has such an impact not just for our whānau not just for our community but for our much broader nation," she said.

The minister announced yesterday that he would be making special alcohol and drug treatment courts permanent and he wanted to see people in the system treated better.

He also released a short list of immediate changes including working with Māori on decision-making to improve outcomes in the justice system.

But Tracey McIntosh, professor of indigenous studies and co-head of Te Wānanga o Waipapa at the University of Auckland, said it must go further than that.

"It's going to need to be far more than just working with Māori - it's around Māori making the decisions, Māori implementing the design, and having to be resourced sufficiently to do it," she said.

"I think this will be a challenge and a struggle for the government - I, we have seen evidence of that across many different governments about the ability to truly do this."

Dr Kim McGregor is the chief victims advisor.

Chief Victims Advisor Kim McGregor Photo: Justice Department

A report by the Chief Victims Advisor Kim McGregor said the justice system was also not working for Māori victims of crime.

McGregor said to get a true partnership - the government must devolve powers to Māori.

Tane Puru, who spent much of his life in and out of jail, said doing so could change everything.

"The system that they created to help us snap out of all that wasn't actually working," he said.

"If my own people were to help me, I would probably have a better chance to stay out of jail - instead of other people, Pākehā or whatever, trying to help me stay out of jail when they are not me - my people."

Former prisoner Awatea Mita said solutions needed to be driven from the community because people would be more inclined to buy into them.

She was pleased that these big conversations were being had, and she was cautiously optimistic that change was around the corner for Māori.

"One of my fears in this situation is the government not taking up these recommendations or not giving them due weight," Mita said.

"I guess now that these recommendations have been received, the ball is back in the government's court."

Te Uepū also recommended the establishment of a cross-party parliamentary accord for transformative justice

Little seemed hopeful that he'll get cross-party support for it, but National leader Simon Bridges has already dismissed the new approach.

Nevertheless, Whaipooti said the Māori community was holding on to hope.

"The fact that we have a current government minister stand up and say this system is broken, I want to do something about it - many of us want to do something about it - is the sea change we need," she said.

"The door is open a little bit and I think there is a bunch of us who are going to try and kick it open because the opportunity is now, otherwise we are giving up on our mokopuna to come."

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