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Utu, Not Imprisonment

NZAP Press Release: 24 of August 2018

Utu, Not Imprisonment

New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists (NZAP) call on the Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, to have courage to make major changes to the Justice system, that will break a vicious cycle of punishing Māori, poor people, and people with mental illness, via a system of incarceration that costs us millions and returns no benefits.

“If we are really to get sensible about sentencing, we would recognise that imprisoning large numbers of people at a time when our crime rate has actually been falling, is costly and damaging, not a smart idea at all. The wrongdoers in our prisons are in many cases yesterday’s “vulnerable” children and their partners and offspring are also being punished and pushed to the fraying edge of our social fabric, where they will inevitably find themselves without status, education, homes or jobs, become victim to violence and despair, and lose any investment in caring for fellow citizens,” said Lynne Holdem, Public Issues Spokesperson for NZAP.

“The key factors to keeping individuals on the right side of the law is to foster connection and a ‘fair go’ between people, to offer a sense of belonging, a home, a job and a way to express their gifts to others. Investment in restorative practices, attachment repair for individuals separated from whenua and whakapapa, and psychotherapy for victims of domestic violence and other childhood trauma so they can develop reflective functioning (the ability to reflect on our own and another’s mental state), and empathy. When we are able to think about our behaviour, our needs and those of our children we are more free to make wise choices not repeat the past.” Holdem explained.

“We have heard a wealth of suggestions from Moana Jackson, Anzac Wallace and others for a more humane and healing approach to justice which would bring Māori kaumatua, Māori cultural values and practices into the heart of the justice system: to restore mana to victims, bring balance and forgiveness to broken relationships and help perpetrators feel they had an opportunity to mend the wrong done. We need to create viable paths to economic security to give wrongdoers a chance to atone for wrongs and improve the future for their whanau and tamariki,” She added.

“The incarceration rate of Maori provides shameful evidence of our colonial legacy: theft of land, language and culture having a generational impact on whakapapa, emotional and economic security, health and well-being of parents, children and grand-children. Prior to colonisation the concept of ‘utu’ or restoration of balance held wrongdoers accountable and eased the hurt of victims. Incarceration, along with physical punishments like whipping and hanging, observed on board ships, horrified Māori as they did not have a punitive model of how to mete out justice or encourage change in wrongdoers.” Holdem said.

“This absence of punishment, was also embodied in Māori child rearing practices which astonished early European visitors when they observed the tenderness of Māori men towards their women and children. Anne Salmond makes a strong case that the current problems of domestic violence are a legacy of the brutalising effects of damage to whakapapa, poverty, imprisonment, and land theft that followed colonisation
This is our generation’s opportunity to right these wrongs, heal these relationships and restore fairness to our Justice system .” Holdem said.

NZAP members ask Andrew Little to listen to Tangata Whenua and to courageously make changes to shift focus of Justice from punishment to healing relationships.


Lynne Holdem
NZAP Public Issues

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