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Community co-operation will make society safer

RAM - Residents Action Movement

Media release 14 October 2008

'State support for community co-operation will make society safer,' says RAM

³Banning gang patches from Whangarei city centre is part of a wrong-headed approach by politicians to tackling criminal and anti-social behavior,² said Martin Kaipo, community development spokesperson for RAM - Residents Action Movement.

Martin Kaipo is an ex-gang leader who 20 years ago turned his back on gang culture to become a community development worker in Otangarei, one of the poorest suburbs in Whangarei. Mr Kaipo is currently a Safer Streets co-ordinator. He is standing as the RAM candidate for Whangarei and is number six on the party list.

Mr Kaipo has been part of a recent debate in the Northern Advocate, Whangarei's daily paper, sparked by Whangarei mayor Stan Semenoff¹s wish to ban people with gang patches and tattoos from the city centre, a measure advocated by National MP Chester Burrows for Wanganui.

³As reported in the Northern Advocate on 6 October, many retailers in Whangarei don¹t agree with the mayor and believe a ban would breach human rights,² said Martin Kaipo.

³Banning people with gang patches and tattoos would only lead to tension and confrontation. It won't make our streets safer.²

³We need to be coming up with real strategies to promote safe and healthy communities, not placing bans on people or building more prisons, which the National Party also wants to do. They¹re coming at the problem from the wrong way.²

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³National has promised to spend $350 million on a new prison, which will cost $43 million each year to run. Why spend all this money on a facility for training criminals? It¹s just dumb,² said Martin Kaipo.  

Labour has already massively increased spending on criminal justice agencies, which in the 2007/08 year was $2.7 billion. The RAM Plan says that both Labour and National are "PC: Promoting Criminality".

³Rather than spending all this money on training criminals we should be investing in communities,² said Martin Kaipo. ³What RAM is saying, is that the state needs to support community co-operation, which is the only solution to anti-social and criminal behaviour.²

³Our community development policies are about getting serious and tackling the social crisis in our poor communities: the root cause of criminality,² said Martin Kaipo.

³I have a lot of experience with the problems faced by low socio-economic communities. My work in Otangarei started with trying to meet the needs of youth, which grew to understanding the needs of families. Which then grew to an understanding of the wider social issues affecting poor communities.²

Mr Kaipo believes that ³the market policies of the LabNats have destroyed the social fabric of our communities. Grassroots community organisations throughout the country are doing a wonderful job trying to deal with the human fallout, but they can only achieve so much with limited resources.²

³The policies of the government need to be turned away from the market, away from individualism and competition, towards social inclusion and co-operation.²

³We need to fund community empowerment and direct our troubled youth into educational programmes where they can learn new skills and new morals based on co-operation,² said Martin Kaipo. ³I look forward to debating RAM's common sense ideas with representatives of the other political parties.²

Below is the section of The RAM Plan which deals with RAM¹s community development strategy for tackling criminality:

Who wants to train criminals?

The Golden Rule of ethical philosophies is: treat others as you would have them treat you. In sharp contrast, the Golden Rule of the market is: the people with the gold make the rules.

So we have laws that, while appearing to treat everyone the same, in fact discriminate against the majority of society. For instance, both the poor and the rich can lawfully own companies which not only profit from the work of hired staff, but also receive tax breaks not available to workers, beneficiaries and seniors. Guess who gets the advantage of this "impartial" law?

As Anatole France famously noted: "The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread."

Our laws are doing nothing to stop the wealth divide growing to obscene proportions while the power brokers treat the majority of society as invisible. These are destructive drivers of the breakdown of community, the main cause of criminal behaviour.

"Poverty means disease and crime, ugliness and brutality, drink and violence." So said English social analyst George Bernard Shaw in 1890. Little has changed since then.

We are horrified at appalling assaults and murders. How can life be valued so cheaply? That's the question commonly asked by pundits and politicians. Yet they mostly ignore the bigger question: how can communities be valued so cheaply? So cheaply that even strangers know without being told when they are entering a poor suburb.

Targeting individual criminals without serious efforts to change the social conditions which produce them is self-defeating.

In 1995 there were 4,500 people in New Zealand prisons. By 2007 that had soared to 8,400, a spike of 86%. At close to 200 per 100,000 New Zealanders, our imprisonment rate is almost twice that of most continental Western European countries and is fast approaching that of Libya, Azerbaijan and Brazil, says professor Andrew Coyle, a fellow of the International Centre for Prison Studies in London.

Experts warn that prisons are training centres for repeat criminal behaviour. So more prisons put us all at more risk, yet more prisons are being built in New Zealand. An expanding cycle of re-offending is being locked in. We must break free from that cycle, especially for youth offenders.

"Putting young people in prison does nothing more than school them in a culture of resentment, anger, distrust, alienation and further offending," say Ian Lambie and John Langley, senior NZ academics on the Independent Advisory Group on Youth Offending. "It is nonsense and yet we continue to have calls for our youth to have tougher sentences, be placed in prisons more readily, to spend time in boot camps." These things, they note, "cause more damage than good".

There is a hard core of the embittered, the twisted and the deranged who will never change, and must be locked up for public safety reasons. For the rest, especially the young, a new road must be taken because the old path is merely circular.

A new road would lead to educational and occupational co-operatives where criminals learnt not just new skills, but far more importantly, new morals. The key value is co-operation, central to the traditions of Maori, Pasifika, unionists and others at the grassroots.

Co-operation is at odds with competition, motivator of the market and the criminal alike. Fostering an environment of co-operation that is able to free the human spirit within criminals, allowing their behaviour to change, will require a challenge to the market that reaches deep into deprived communities.

Neighbourhood co-operation built on the back of community empowerment is the key to crime prevention.

For people in poor suburbs to collectively control their destiny and improve their lives, they need a massive injection of public resources: kindergartens, kohanga reo, language nests, school facilities, tertiary scholarships, sports clubs, music & arts centres, public libraries, computers-in-homes funding, adventure courses, marae re-building, Pasifika centres, neighbourhood gardens, training centres, work co-operatives, trade apprenticeships, state enterprise start-ups, union resourcing, community grants, project funding, youth workers, substance abuse centres, community booze controls, better footpaths, more public transport, suburb beautification, state home improvements, housing grants, food discounts, restorative justice systems, crime buster patrols, crime-free street bonuses, the list goes on.

While such things are costly, they may well be cheaper in dollar terms than building more prisons, jailing more people, hiring more police, funding more legal aid, paying more benefits, meeting more health costs and all the other charges on the state that flow from criminal behaviour.

The budget for New Zealand's core criminal justice agencies in the 2007/08 year was $2.7 billion. Additional social costs of criminality amounted to $64 billion. In total, that's $9.1 billion, a whopping 5.5% of gross domestic product. Yet the National Party, trumpeting an end to wasteful government spending, is calling for more money to be spent on the proven failure of more jailings with longer sentences. And Labour echoes National. Both factions of the Church of Market Miracles are PC: Promoting Criminality. That's worse than being soft on crime.

Investing in social co-operation and collective empowerment, rather than building prisons that train criminals, would fuel a monumental growth of community pride alongside a staggering reduction in crime statistics.

All this is well known. It has been explained in detail by any number of experts. So why aren't the politicians doing it? Why are they exploiting the symptoms, not solving the problems? Because their first loyalty is to the market. The market's core element, competition, would be weakened by state investment in social co-operation. It's that simple. And that shameful.

Both National and Labour are engaged in the criminal act of creating more criminals.

In contrast, RAM advocates state support for community co-operation which would create a dynamic alternative to criminality:

·        Zero tolerance towards crimes against people and property in tandem with zero tolerance towards the dollar-driven breakdown of community out of which criminals are born.

·        The state to switch from building more prisons to funding community empowerment.

·        Heavy government investment in poor suburbs with local residents having the final say on policies and implementation.

·        Weed out hard-core criminals and channel the rest into educational and occupational co-operatives where they learn new skills and, more importantly, new morals based on the key value of co-operation.

·        Build restorative justice systems where the victims of crime can take control and be compensated by the perpetrators.


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