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Sharples: Young Offenders Serious Crimes Bill

Young Offenders Serious Crimes Bill

Dr Pita Sharples

Wednesday 29 March

Mr Speaker - after an hour of family conferencing, I stood before this hardened offender - with a rap sheet as long as your arm. He was angry, violent and unrepentant, and I said "don't you care about what you've done!".

He shouted "Go to hell". Then in a flash of inspiration I said - "What about your mother?".

At this point, his mother rushed forward and began hitting her son with her umbrella - tears rolling down her face, saying "You shame me, all your life, you shame me - I pray for you - you let me down!"

He stood bolt upright - this adult man began to cry "I'm sorry Mum" - I'm sorry Mum - those were the words that began his rehabilitation and healing - to go on to lead a productive life within society after three terms in prison and convictions for twenty-five offences.

Restorative Justice can work.

This Maori Tribunal Restorative Justice Programme began some thirty years ago - by chance the local school Principal rang up and said "another six of your kids is in trouble - stole from the dairy and pinched a Pakeha kids coat. "Are you going to do something about this or should I ring the Police?". No, no, I said - we'll handle it.

So, without knowing what we were doing, we called a hui - for all six kids, their parents, the victims (family of the stolen coat), the dairy owner. We all gathered - had a prayer to open, then the customary Maori greetings to the parents and families. And then sat the six kids up front and each of us had a turn talking to them.

"Jimmy, what are you doing - last year haka leader. Now your a thief!", and so on. Hard words, kind words. At the end we gave the parents a cup of tea and decided that the kids should work up at the pensioner village for four Saturday mornings - supervised by us.

It worked that first time, the second, then third - then the school's started sending cases to us, then the Police, then Judge Mick Brown heard of it and he started referring cases from the court.

The family conferences worked because the offenders were made to be responsible to the members of their own community, because they admitted guilt - had remorse. It worked because the parents and loved ones were there - and official departments were absent or at a minimum.

Judge Brown used these experiences when he designed the Family Group Conferences for our courts. Then Australia adopted them.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party can not support a Bill that sends twelve year olds to prison.

Mr Speaker, I have spent much time in my life - working with those behind bars. Youth institutions, Men's prisons, Women's prisons, Maximum security, Medium security, old and new, and with D Block inmates.

I have been part of several initiatives, which have set up programmes for rehab and for learning etc - many of these are still running today!

Mr Speaker, prisons do not work. They do not rehabilitate. There are alternatives which I intend to talk to at length at some later opportunity - but to say here that the culture of our prisons directly conflicts with programmes of healing, of rehabilitation.

There exists, in Men's prisons a set of relationships which dominates every inmates activities, especially at times conflict or incidents. Nobody is outside of this matrix. In women's prisons - the structure is even more rigid - with the mother or 'King Pin' and her attendants ruling the roost and governing behaviour amongst all inmates.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party has no interest in the industry of creating schools for baby crims; of teaching our teenagers how to incite terror within their communities; of adding further to the painful programme of punishment this Government seeks to hand out.

We believe in the potential for good.

We believe whanau are best able to determine their own solutions.

We are committed to a system based on justice that heals rather than justice that hammers. A system which must celebrate and actively engage all members in the pursuit of collectively owning the people and the problems daily life can bring.

In thinking through the implications of a children's prison - it would seem that jail for twelve year olds will just create schools of crime, where young, fertile minds are exploited, where the rules and rigid roles of the game are used as a training programme for crime.

The Maori Party says this system is wrong. This Bill is wrong. It is, as Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro stated, 'knee-jerk law-marking".

Instead of looking to target the people that Ron Mark describes as 'young thugs who bash people on the street'; we must look to ways to reduce offending, to rehabilitate youth - not set them on a life of crime.

The Maori Party believes that the Family Group Conference may need a review - but that with the correct persons present, it is still a positive plan for saving young people and for safeguarding our communities.

For these reasons, the Maori Party will oppose the Youth Offenders Serious Offending Bill.


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