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Pita Sharples Speech Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Criminal Justice Reform Bill

Dr Pita Sharples; Co-leader, Maori Party

Tuesday 5 December 2006

I want to stand today to talk of the courage of a thirteen year old boy from Moerewa. Phillip ‘Piripi’ Tautari – remember that name – it has all the marks of leadership etched upon his signature.

Phillip attends Moerewa School, describing himself as “a very reliable person to this community as a fire cadet, and an asset to my other friends within my class, in the way of life skills”.

But two weeks ago, that young boy became another mug shot protégé – as a photographer snapped him in a shot to accompany their article of the kidnapped Dutch tourists. As Phillip, Piripi, later reflected, “I am very upset to see myself pictured in the newspaper clipping as I felt that I was part of the criminal offenders”.

But the taking of offence didn’t just stop with Piripi. Letters flooded in from 150 school children in defence not only of the model student, but also in defence of Moerewa.

They all protested that in associating a shot of Phillip Piripi with a story about the brutal abduction and robbery of two tourists, a perception was being created that served to cast this young Maori boy as part of the crime scene. And Moerewa weren’t having it. They articulated their outrage at the careless and irresponsible use of the media to project a false image of the boy and the town.

The actions of Piripi and his mates is the sort of everyday revolution that inspires hope. The hope is what we must all think of when we consider the measures being introduced in the Criminal Justice Reform Bill to arrest the sharp increase in the prison population.

The Maori Party has said loudly and often, that achieving reduced prison numbers needs a system-wide commitment and not just an approach that merely tinkers with the management of penal resources.

Just as Piripi, his mates, his Principal, and the community stood up to be counted, so too, do all New Zealanders need to become involved in an overhaul of the incarceration rates; to stand up to the injustice, and demand better.

A key initiative in this Bill is to give effect to the Law Commission’s recommendation to establish a Sentencing Council. The Council will issue guidelines on sentencing principles, levels, types, and the granting of parole.

Sentencing Councils or Commissions have been established in England, Wales, Scotland, Victoria, New South Wales and over twenty United States states.

At a very minimum, we would expect that whanau, hapü and iwi must be consulted by the Council when establishing sentencing guidelines.

So surely we must all be looking at indigenous alternatives for meaningful solutions to these enduring problems.

An initiative that this Parliament could be investigating as part of this Bill, is that of circle sentencing or circle courts.

Circle sentencing arose from a decision from the Supreme Court of Yukon in the case of R v Moses, in 1992. The Presiding Judge, Judge Stuart, was of the opinion that significant, institutional change could be achieved by increasing meaningful community involvement; before, during and after sentencing takes place. Accordingly, he consulted the local Indian community and developed the concept of circle courts. Circle courts were known to first nations Canadian peoples in more traditional settings, but have recently been applied in urban settings.

And over in Nowra, in New South Wales, the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council Circle Sentencing pilot has been established from the local Court House, and directly involves local Aboriginal communities in the sentencing process.

In essence, what it means is that the sentencing court is taken to a community where Aboriginal community members and the Magistrate sit in a circle to discuss both the offence and the offender.

Interestingly, this is the same concept that Moerewa Primary School use – they call it a talking circle, when you make anyone sad or hurt – you are called to account in the talking circle.

Circle sentencing involves victims of offences as well as the families of offenders and other respected people within the community.

Mr Speaker, I come to this Bill, able to speak with absolute confidence, from the basis of my experience within similar initiatives put forward from tangata whenua.

In the mid seventies we established a restorative justice – neighbourhood court – in Te Atatu, West Auckland. This form of marae justice began as an independent, unfunded model with schools and the community in general, bringing their complaints of criminal or anti-social activity to be deliberated upon.

It proved to be so successful in settling disputes, and providing for some form of reparation or restitution, that the Police, and later the Waitakere District Court began to refer incidents and crimes to the neighbourhood court to be dealt with by them, by us.

The project was extremely successful because perpetrators appeared before a court made up of their own community. Expressions of guilt, sorrow, remorse, anger and love were key features which ensured the success of the programme which had a recidivism rate of almost nil.

This neighbourhood court and sentencing programme was later used by the local District Court Judge of the time Judge Michael Brown, Mick Brown, to create the Family Conferencing Programme for New Zealand childrens’ courts which is in operation now. In turn the elements of the conferencing programme were introduced to Australian childrens’ courts.

In 2003, the BBC were so interested in the work we were doing in Tamaki Makaurau that they filmed a documentary for the Foreign Correspondent programme which aired in Britain and in Australia.

This marae justice is about real life not just crime. The focus is on restoring mana to the group, to the whanau, about healing the offender as well as considerations of restitution.

One of the great mysteries to me is, how come we know that there are great initiatives occurring in Australia and Canada; that the people in Britain are coming here to learn about our indigenous justice initiatives – and yet in Aotearoa, in this Bill, not even a mention?

Mr Speaker, the intent behind this Bill relies on full and active community involvement. The introduction of three new non-custodial sentence options for less serious offenders - including home detention; and the two new community-based sentences of community detention and intensive supervision - places far greater emphasis on the involvement and support of the community.

Similarly the amendments to the Bail Act so that offenders are not unnecessarily remanded in custody rather than on bail, demands a greater responsiveness on behalf of the community.

And yet there are also bizarre twists of policy changes included in this Bill which seem to achieve the opposite effect. The Parole Act 2002 is amended in Clause 120, raising the non-parole period for a long-term sentence from one-third to two-thirds of sentence length.

Clause 121 raises the release date for short-term sentences from half the sentence to the expiry of the sentence, in effect meaning there is no longer any parole eligibility.

So here we have in the midst of a Bill purportedly designed to reduce projected growth in prison population, moves making people sentenced to short or moderate-term lags to end up in prison longer than before, not less.

The Maori Party will support the Criminal Justice Reform Bill at this, its First reading, because we are passionately committed towards supporting moves to reduce the prison incarceration rates.

But all the tinkering and technicalities will result in more of the same. We must be prepared to learn from the example of Phillip Piripi Tautari and look at the bigger picture – the image from afar.

We must apply our best thinking to stand, like Piripi, and say – this is not the prison profile we want for our nation. We can do something about it. We need to look through another lens.

Sentencing circles; restorative justice; whanau, hapu and iwi; involvement of all of these, may all provide some help for the solutions we seek.

But at the end of the day, I can’t help feeling that until Government seriously tackles the big question that is ‘how to reduce the amount of crime committed in our society’ then our prisons will continue to be disproportionately full of offenders.


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