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Hone Harawira: Young Offenders Bill

Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill

Hone Harawira, MP for Te Tai Tokerau

Wednesday 21 May 2008, 9.00pm

Last Sunday the Herald ran a snoop story on Bailey Junior Kurariki; talking up his Home 'D like he was in paradise, but all they had were shots of a young man, standing around talking on a cellphone. What you can already do in jail.

Oh yeah, and he had a birthday and got some presents too. Big deal. You can get that stuff in jail too. Even the birthday cake.

Kurariki will have it tough enough trying to make it on the outside as a man, after spending all of his teenage years in jail, without a camera highlighting his every move, and rednecks calling for his head every second day.

Today we consider this Youth Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill, which aims to severely punish young offenders who commit serious crimes, as a means of deterring others, because somebody thinks that the youth justice system is too lenient, and that we should be hitting young crims harder.

And to no-one’s surprise, analysing the statistics of those who are arrested most, prosecuted most, and convicted most, Maori youth get the prize three times more than anyone else.

The Maori Party thinks this Bill is crap – another knee-jerk reaction to a problem in society that government doesn’t know how to fix.

And how do we know that severely punishing young offenders who commit serious crimes as a means of deterring others, won’t work?

Ezy .. Because the Americans have been following this route for decades, and now they have thousands upon thousands of seriously violent criminals that they’re too scared to let out on the streets, because they’re ten times worse than when they went in, many of whom started off as teenagers.

That’s how we know it won’t work here - because it don’t work anywhere.

And you want to know another reason why it won’t work?

Because theChief Judge of the Youth Court, Judge Andrew Becroft says so that’s why, and he’s seen more of these cases than every single one of us will ever see, that’s why.

And who is this Judge Becroft? He’s the guy we’ve appointed to deal with all the seedy, violent problems of our youth, that we don’t want to deal with, that’s who he is.

OK. So Judge Becroft is the man then. So what did he actually say about all this youth offending then? Well, now that you ask, he reckons that:

“the over-representation of Maori in the youth justice system is probably the most pressing issue confronting all of those who are involved daily in our youth justice system in Aotearoa”.

And what does Judge Becroft say about this Bill then?

What’s his opinion on this Bill then?

Well, you’ll all want to hear what he says about this Bill, because he knows more about this stuff that all of you guys do, and he said that this Bill was

“profoundly poorly drafted, in fact abysmally drafted”.

No, no judge, don’t try to spare our feelings, tell us what you really think …

“profoundly poorly drafted, in fact abysmally drafted”.

Judge Becroft has previously spoken out about how biased the criminal justice system is against Maori kids, noting Ministry of Social Development research which suggests that:

• Half the Maori population isunder 19 years old

• There is anincreased vigilance of Maori youth, by the police;

• Maori youth arehighly visible in the youth justice system

• Maori youth are more likely to end up in theYouth Court, where tougher sentences are handed out, than go to Family Group Conference;

• Maori youth are likely to getmore severe sentences than other kids.

With all this going against our kids, we knew that somebody had to make the safety and wellbeing of our rangatahi an absolute priority, andAngeline Greensill, Maori Party member of the House of Hauraki-Waikato reminded us that that’s exactly what the Maori Party is here for –

“to defend Maori rights, and to advance Maori interests, for the benefit of the whole nation”.

And that’s an excellent philosophy, because it seems that the two major parties have become obsessed with trying to bash Maori kids into submission with these tagging bills and youth offender’s bills, without any thought whatsoever to the consequences of continuing down the pathway of heavy sentencing.

Even the NZ Law Society was heavily critical of this Bill, and you could hardly say that the NZ Law Society is a puppet of the Maori Party. They said that:

“the Bill demonstrates a misunderstanding of New Zealand’s youth justice system, adult criminal justice system, and international obligations in respect of children and young persons”

We’d go further. We’d also say that

“the Bill demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of New Zealand’s young people and their families”

But no. It seems this Bill simply does not accept the fact that a government that shows scant respect for its youth, is asking for trouble from those very ones it has discarded.

A government that allows rampant illiteracy must also accept the consequence of having so many disaffected people within society.

A government that would charge teenagers for an education that its members got for free, can hardly expect respect from its youth.

And a government that would ban the smacking of children, but react to problems with teenagers by simply getting a bigger and bigger stick, is a government destined for the opposition benches.

Yes crime violates people, and yes serious crime is a crime upon society itself.

But given how poorly prisons actually rehabilitate inmates, all we will achieve by fast-tracking our kids into serious offenders, is leaving our kids a time-bomb to deal with, that we didn’t have the guts to deal with ourselves.

Determining blame and administering pain is not the way, and bangin’ on about youth crime in election year, is an ugly and pathetic way to get votes.

Restorative justice has a far better success rate. It may take a little longer, and it certainly takes a lot more intelligence, but as Nelson Mandela himself would say, if renewal is your game, then reconciliation beats retribution every day.

It’s not perfect by any means, but New Zealand’s groundbreaking Children, Young Persons and their Families Act and the Family Group Conference, are steps in the right direction - where families are actively encouraged to help address crimes committed by their young people, and where whanau, hapu and iwi can resolve disputes for the betterment of all parties.

Because locking people away simply doesn’t work. Ask Nelson Mandela.

They locked him away for 25 years, but they couldn’t break his spirit. They couldn’t get him to renounce his beloved ANC, And they couldn’t get him to accept apartheid. All they did was make him more determined to win. And win, he most assuredly did.

And talking about the great Nelson Mandela, he also said that:

“a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but how it treats its lowest ones”.

And that is the challenge that we are faced with whenever bills like this come before the House –

• to build a nation going forward, by empowering those on the bottom to believe that the world is theirs, and not just the shadows

• or to take the easy road, chuck the kids in jail, and hope they never come knockin’ on your nightmares when they get out again.

And we have to be smarter.

We have to listen to the alarm bells signaling a breakdown in our society.

We have to be willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers.

We have to listen to one another, again, and again, and again.

And we have to actually decide whether or not the populace is more important than profit, the people are more important than property, and our kids are the greatest treasures of all.

The Maori Party will oppose this Bill and all that it stands for.


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