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Victim justice: a new partnership

Victim justice: a new partnership

Launch of New Zealand Restorative Justice Practice Manual

Speech by Minister of Corrections and Minister for Courts, Hon. Matt Robson

3rd March 2000

Introduction: A new partnership

Thank- you for inviting me here today. I am proud to be launching New Zealand's first Restorative Justice Practise Manual in the first 100 days of the new government.

I understand that this manual will not only be used in our own pilot court projects across New Zealand, but also overseas. And already you have been overwhelmed with request for copies of the manual.

New Zealand it seems is leading the field in this area.

I know that groups like Restorative Justice Trust who wrote the manual have pioneered these sorts of victim focused processes over the years with very little resources.

Times have changed. You now have a new government who wants to work with you.

This is the beginning of a new partnership, between the community and a government committed to community involvement in it's own safety.

I am here to support your work today and talk about what we do next.

The old system has failed

The old justice system has failed in three key areas: it has failed to make offenders fully accountable for their actions: it has failed victims: and it has failed the community which is diminished every time a crime is committed.

Recidivism rate for ex-inmates is up to 80%. That is an appalling figure.

And yet for more than nine years we have had an administration which has increased sentences for more and more offenders, cut rehabilitation programmes and education in the prisons, and done little to reduce re-offending.

Since 1990 violent crime is up by 90%.

The Crimes Amendment Act 1993 increased the maximum penalty for both rape and unlawful sexual connection from 14 years to 20 years.

And yet conviction for violent sex offences including rape tripled in number between 1988 and 1996.

More violent offenders were sent to prison for longer periods, and yet the number of convictions in 1997 for both robbery and aggravated robbery were the highest recorded in the decade in 1997.

What this tells me is that simply putting people in prison for longer periods is not reducing the re-offending rate.

The system to date has failed to make offenders fully and terribly aware of the consequences of their crime. That is the key difference between the old techniques and the restorative justice approach.

Is it any wonder that 91% of New Zealanders voted yes in the justice referendum? People are in despair, and they are afraid.

Whether you voted 'no' or 'yes' in the referendum, 100% of New Zealanders know that the system is not delivering.

Some people voted for a review of the justice system, and we are doing that.

Some voted for victim's needs to be better met. That is what today is about.

Some voted for 'hard labour'. In fact when I went to see Norm Withers shortly after the election, he told me that what he meant by 'hard labour' was inmate employment.

I am in full support of employment schemes in prisons – in line with international labour regulations – that give prison inmates work skills, and ever more important do everything possible to place inmates in real jobs when they leave prison.

There seems to be a misconception out there that the only tough option is longer sentences. If only it were that easy.

A tough option

It isn’t news that prisons in our country have become universities of crime.

Whether an inmate returns to the community in five years of ten years is wasted time if our prisons don't return them safer than when they went in.

The question is, how do we turn around offenders so that the likelihood of re-offending is minimal?

Putting an offender face to face with their victim, making them hear the anger and hurt that they have caused, is perhaps the most devastating wake up call we can give an offender.

The justice system today keeps offenders far too removed from the consequences of their actions. They can serve years in a prison and feel no remorse because at no point have they been confronted with the reality of the effects of their crime.

Now we will be able to measure the success of New Zealand's first adult court pilot scheme, due to start on April 1st at Waitekere District Court and see for ourselves the effects of making offenders finally, face the music.

The primary objectives of restorative justice mirror the primary concerns of the community:

- to attend fully to victim's need - material, financial, emotional and social, including those personally close the victim who are affected.

- To prevent re-offending

- To make offenders take responsibility for the consequences of their crime

For the first time, victims will be directly involved in determining what should happen to make amends to them and the community.

When a judge comes to pass sentence, victim reports will have far greater weight in a restorative justice court room than they do at present.

Let us be absolutely clear: a restorative justice conference between victim and offender and support people is not an alternative to a judges ruling.

A conference will only take place after an offender has pleaded guilty and before sentencing.

The country will be watching to see what comes of the Waitakere pilot scheme as it uses this manual to put restorative justice principals into action.

You have six months and 50 cases to prove to New Zealanders that this really does work.

The future

Crime prevention is the clarion call of this government. That means supporting rehabilitation programmes in prison to reduce re-offending as much as we humanly can.

It means working with young offenders and their families before they become hardened adult offenders.

It means creating jobs and putting life back into those key communities in New Zealand which have nearly died for lack of development.

That is why the new government, under the guidance of the new minister of economic development and deputy prime minister Jim Anderton, is prioritising regional development.

We are committed to creating sustainable jobs in communities that have been neglected for too long.

An extra $100 million will be made available for venture capital.

In the pipeline we have more pilot schemes to come, and we have the support of community groups and the Victims Support Council in principal to progress with those proposals.

As many of you know there is a budget round coming up, and as Minister of Corrections and for Courts I will be pushing for restorative justice initiatives where ever possible. Let's hope we can get more pilot court schemes up and running soon.

I am also keen to build on other community successes like Project Turnaround in Timaru and Te Whanau Awhina in Waitakere, Auckland.

Although these schemes primarily offer adult diversion options and are not strictly speaking restorative justice models, they are magnificent examples of the community getting involved in making and keeping itself safe.

Most importantly Project Turnaround has succeeded in reducing the crime rate by 7% while the national crime rate continued to rise.

"There are many other community initiatives like this in at least 11 other towns and cities. There is no doubt in my mind the change is in the air.

Communities are no longer waiting for governments to get it right. They are seizing the initiative and making it happen themselves.

That is what you people here today have done and I salute your courage. I also give you my support as a member of a new government which also intends to be courageous.

ENDS

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