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"Prison for twelve year olds?: Absolutely not"

"Prison for twelve year olds?: Absolutely not" says Dr Pita Sharples

Friday 17 March 2006

Ron Mark and his supporters have got it wrong yet again, according to Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party.

"As I have said publically on a number of occasions, 'lock up' is not a solution for social dysfunction nor a deterrent against further offending" stated Dr Sharples.

"'Lock-up' without a rehabilitative alternative is why we have a 81% recidivism rate amongst adult offenders".

"'Lock up' is also the basis of our fully-paid for "training programme in criminal activities" and a negative attitude development course".

"If you lock up twelve-year olds then you are guaranteeing yet another crime training ground - and worse still - amongst young fertile minds".

"Ron Mark reflects a growing negative attitude that is becoming all too prevalent in our small country - that the best solution for social dysfunction is punishment and seclusion from society".

"Twelve-year old offenders don't act in isolation, they reflect the dysfunction in families, communities and in our local 'culture'. It is this 'culture', and these areas of dysfunction, which should demand our attention".

Ron Mark has condemned the Family Group Conference programme in our justice systems as being 'useless' and having a negative result. "I have attended many, many family group conferences (FGCs). Some work brilliantly, some don't. I come from the positive school of thought, which means you look at the successes rather than the failure. I also work on the street with both victims and perpetrators - and have done so for years. I'm telling you - FGCs work".

"Our FGC process is renown throughout the world as unique through its practical demonstration of restorative justice in action". "According to the Restorative Justice practitioner, Howard Zehr, "vengeance and bitter violence have had their turns - without redemptive results".

"What is so fantastic about the FGC process is that it creates the opportunity for the children, the young people, and the whanau to take responsibility - to work through the shame, the regret, the anger, the remorse and move to a process of healing and restoration".

"It saddens me therefore that political posturing appears to be undermining what has been recognised internationally as really progressive legislation [the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act, 1989]. "In admitting that some Family Group Conferences haven't worked out, I believe it is time to review this process".

"The FGC must concentrate on creating a forum whereby the family support and the youth offender, can accept the responsibility for the offending".

"The success of the resultant action plan is totally dependent on the conference's ability to produce a climate of reconciliation and healing; together with the acceptance of responsibility that a wrong has been done and needs to be set right. It is also dependent on an demonstrated and genuine attitude of commitment from all parties present, as well as regular monitoring".

There will be an international conference in Wellington discussing Family Group conferences in November this year. Papers are currently being called for (closing date 31 March). "Perhaps Mr Marks would like to put his idea on paper to that forum, to be judged by an international audience of professionals, practitioners, and politicians - as I certainly will be there".

"Part of the problem is the lack of resourcing that creates difficulties for whanau to be able to attend FGCs. This is a 'whole-of-whanau' thing - the state shouldn't just pick and choose who turns up on the day. It must be that we have our appropriate mind to attend to the issues within their own and for them to apply their best thinking" stated Dr Sharples.

"Sometimes it may be difficult for social workers to have meaningful interactions with the whanau. These are real issues - but they are not sufficient to chuck the concept out in favour of jails for babies". "We need to focus on the positive - rather than turfing our teens out into a school of crime" said Dr Sharples.

"Children of twelve years of age will just gobble up lessons in law-breaking and before we know it, we will have a whole new workforce of criminals being prepared for release on the streets"

"I am determined that the answers lie in ourselves - we must talk about this as communities - not sort it out by a political fight in Parliament". "If our young ones are out roaming at night - as parents, as uncles and aunties, we need to take responsibility for finding them, and keeping them at home - and that may mean finding some meaningful activity for them in the evening.

"If our young ones are talking about weapons, and we know about this, then the older brothers and sisters, and parents must intervene. We need to educate our parents, and empower them to act".

"It is not enough to sit back and scoff at caregivers who are at that time, unable to contain their family's youth offending". "My office is inundated with requests from whanau to get help in getting their kids back from CYFS" said Dr Sharples.

"If we all put that same amount of efforts into our children when they were young, we wouldn't need to be worrying about youth prisons and Bills like Mr Marks has to offer".

ENDS

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