Calls for more culturally-specific interventions and a dollar-for-dollar match between prison investment and rehabilitation programmes were among the initiatives suggested by participants at last Friday’s Pasifika Fono to discuss criminal justice reform.
Around 150 Pacific people attended the Fono on Friday 29 March, hosted by the Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio, who is also the Associate Justice Minister. It was held at the Fale o Samoa in Mangere.
Following addresses by Minister Sio, Chester Borrows (Chair of Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora - the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group) and advisory group member Professor Tracey McIntosh, the guests divided into four groups to discuss their experiences and ideas for criminal justice.
• Community leaders
• Disability and youth interests
• Professionals and practitioners in the justice sector, and
• Elders, Pacific women and LGBTQI+
Among the strong themes that emerged in discussions was the need for culturally-relevant programmes for Pacific peoples and a desire for prisons to mirror the education system.
For some, feelings of the loss of language, land and culture, coupled with young Pacific people not feeling at home in New Zealand, was not being helped by a perceived focus on punitive justice.
The Advisory Group also heard that the justice process could be de-stigmatised using different processes for different cultures. For example in a traditional Samoan system of justice involves the village matai (chiefs) who govern the conduct of people living in the village.
Addressing the assembled guests, Tracey McIntosh referred to New Zealand’s response to recent terror attack in Christchurch as a way to approach justice reform.
“After the devastation that we have witnessed, that we have felt, one of the things that gives me great heart is that as a nation have had a distinctive response to this tragedy.
“And it gives me heart to think that in the space of justice, as we think about what do we want a just justice system to look like, that here too we can have a distinctive response. Something very special to us.”
Tracey also reminded the participants that the future lay with our younger generations.
“I don’t want a prison that’s culturally responsive. I want a society that is culturally responsive.
“The greatest opportunity that this country has is our young rangatahi, our young Māori and Pacific people. As a nation, we can reap the rewards of the demographic dividends of a young-aged profile amongst our Māori and Pacific youth. In an aging population that is our biggest gift.”
With the successful Pasifika Fono and this coming weekend’s Hui Māori, the first phase (‘listening to understand’) of the engagement programme is coming to an end.
The Advisory Group will be submitting an interim report to Justice Minister Andrew Little before commencing a targeted stakeholder engagement to further develop key ideas, before submitting their recommendations later in 2019.