Speech to new direction for criminal justice reform announcement

  • Hon Andrew Little
Courts Justice

Kia ora koutou
E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā matā waka
Tēnā koutou katoa
Haere ngā, moe mai
Koutou ma ngā Rangatira Ko Anaru ahau
Ko au te Minita mo ngā Ture
He Honore tino nui kei roto I ahau
No reira tena koutou katoa

Today, we are releasing two reports that are the product of some of the most extensive community engagement over our criminal justice system ever.

As well as announcing some specific and symbolic initiatives the government will take immediately, I also want to set out the direction this government intends to take in future years.

The two reports released today, Turuki! Turuki! from Te Uepū Hāpai I te Ora, and Te Tangi o te Manawanui: Recommendations for Reform from the Chief Victims Advisor, along with the reports released earlier this year Inaia Tonu Nei and He Waka Roimata tell us there is much we need to do if we want our criminal justice system to be safe and effective and if we want to change what it does for the better.

These reports are not a blueprint. But they draw on community input and the message is clear: we need a different approach. We need humanity for victims and greater effectiveness for offenders.

The challenges we face now have been decades in the making. And many are not of the criminal justice system itself. I'll come back to this later.

On the system itself, we continue to unquestioningly accept some aspects of the way things are done, things which, by any definition, are out of date. One of those is the role and place of victims in the criminal justice system.

No one challenges the orthodoxy of the Crown taking responsibility for prosecuting those who do harm. That is part of the social contract.

The burden of seeking accountability for harmful and anti-social conduct should not be the victim’s.

Nor is there any argument to abandon longstanding principles such as the presumption of innocence and the onus of proof on the Crown. In the end these are protections for the innocent. They are protections against the state from exercising its powers in an over-bearing and abusive way.

But the way the system applies these principles can look from the outside like it is a system geared almost entirely to the needs of the offender. Yes, it is the offender, after all, who at the end of the process, stands to lose their liberty, but there is also the victim – the person who is in the system through no choice they have made. It is the victim who will have suffered physically, emotionally and psychologically. The victim has a huge stake in what happens.

In this day and age, we have a much better understanding of the impact of offending on victims.

For many victims, the trauma of being harmed or invaded is just the start. They are drawn into a process that is alien and alienating, and often just downright intimidating. Many are left feeling unsafe and unsupported. Many say they, as victims, do not get justice.

Even after 30 years of greater advocacy for victims of crime and improvements in support for them, there are still gaps in the support we provide. The more we leave victims unsupported the greater the psychological and emotional harm the system can cause.

Of every $100 spent in the criminal justice system today, just 50 cents is spent on direct support for victims.

We know today that dealing with trauma and preventing prolonged grief requires respect and understanding, and importantly a voice. That is not happening effectively for too many victims.

This government is committed to strengthening the role and place of victims in our criminal justice system.

It is vital we do so for the sake of the justice system, and for public confidence in it.

It is possible to do so without compromising the important protections we have for the innocent, as we have done recently for victims of sexual violence.

We recently changed the law to improve how victims of sexual violence give evidence in court and how they are treated at trial. The aim is to make the experience of giving evidence and being the subject of questioning less traumatising.

But there is more we can do for victims generally, so that all victims are given due consideration throughout. We are committed to making these changes over time.

One of the changes we can make is with our courthouses and the environment in which justice is actually administered. Next Monday I will announce a project to deal with just this question.

One of the most important changes in approach we need to make is accepting that for many offenders – indeed, for most of them - their offending is the consequence of a bunch of factors. True, their offending is their choice, and they must be responsible for it. But those choices are in many cases predictable because of personal circumstances.

If we accept that, then it is possible to think about dealing with offending – so that we can stop it – by dealing with those factors that lead to bad choices.

As I said, this will be the case for many offenders. But not for all. Even as we explore the future, for for more effective ways of calling offenders to account and intervening to stop future offending, there are those whose offending is calculated and deliberate, and for whom prison, the ultimate sanction, is the best place for them for the safety of the community.

Of those prisoners whose offending we might describe as predictable, you’ve only got to look at what we know about the current prison population:

  • 62 per cent of prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder;
  • 52 per cent of women and 22 per cent of men are assessed as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder;
  • 60 per cent of prisoners have literacy or numeracy below NCEA level one, and many have usually dropped out of school at an early age;
  • Many have experienced physical violence, and 53 per cent of women prisoners have experienced sexual violence.

These are the figures for those in prison. There is no reason to believe that those passing through the whole of the justice system are not similarly affected.

Looking at these figures, I go back to what I said at the very beginning and say our long term solutions don’t just lie with the criminal justice system. Effective early interventions in education and health are necessary. That is why this government has invested so heavily in learning support coordinators and in mental health and addiction in this year's Budget.

Against this background, we have been locking up offenders at an unprecedented rate. And yet, our re-offending rate has remained largely unchanged for more than 20 years.

It’s pretty clear what we’ve been allowing our system to do for a large chunk of our offenders. We take wrecked lives. And we wreck them a little bit more.

It’s not reducing serious crime. It’s not making our communities safer.

This government wants to change that. We have already started.

Under Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis’ leadership, and as part of the Hōkai Rangi programme, more effort is being made to deal with the problems prisoners have that is part of their offending.

It might be health issues. It might be skills and whether they can hold down a job. It might be learned behaviours, like violence. It might be not having a suitable place to live on release. It might be family relationships. It might be a sense of identity – or the loss of it, because of generations of being denied whakapapa.

If we can fix these issues and restore stability, identity and a stake in the community, we will have a better chance of stopping re-offending. That means fewer victims and safer communities.

It is right that offenders are held to account for the harm they do. But for many, the best chance we have to stop future offending and make communities safer is to give them a chance to re-join society as a better person with something to give back.

So what we do in the prison system is vital. It is our last chance in the system to help troubled people change.

But it cannot be the only place in the system where people who make bad choices and cause harm get help.

The entry point to the criminal justice system is the Police. What the Police do, and how they do their job, is also vital.

Commissioner Mike Bush, with the support of Minister Stuart Nash, has led the way on a new style of policing under the Prevention First: National Operating Model.

Within Prevention First, Police have Te Huringa o Te Tai, the plan to reduce Māori offending by 25 per cent by 2025. It is about changing mind-sets – the Police’s and the community’s – and seeking partnership.

The Police also have Te Pae Oranga: Iwi Community Panels, a community response to some offending to get offenders off a track to a bleaker future in the criminal justice system.

And of course, what the courts do is vital.

Judges often say to me they wished there were more options at their disposal to provide the means to help offenders change.

We know there are backlogs and delays in the system now, and this year we funded places for another 10 District Court judges and two Youth Court judges to deal with this.

We’ve also had a longstanding pilot of two Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts, operating in Waitakere and Auckland.

An evaluation earlier this year confirmed  in relation to those courts that within two years:

  • 23 per cent of offenders going through the courts were less likely to offend for any offence;
  • 35 per cent were less likely to re-offend for a serious offence;
  • 25 per cent were less likely to be imprisoned because of re-offending.

The judges leading these courts say they have continually refined and changed what they do, and their results have been getting steadily better.

On the basis of this, the government is announcing today that it will make the two pilot courts in Auckland permanent.

In addition to that, we will establish an AODT court in Waikato next year.

There is strong community support in Hamilton for an AODT court there.

Initially the courts will be funded out of the Proceeds of Crime Fund before costs are absorbed into Ministry of Justice baselines.

More AODT courts will be be rolled out in other cities over time.

The Government is committed over time to the establishment of more therapeutic courts such as the Matariki, New Beginnings and Special Circumstances courts, as well as specialist courts such as the Sexual Violence Court. Pilots of all of these courts have shown positive results from more effective interventions.

There is another essential challenge we must rise to as we head into a different future.

We know Māori are way over-represented in our criminal justice system.

What’s not as widely acknowledged is that Māori are way over-represented amongst victims too.

Our response to this cannot be to plan for this being a permanent feature. However, to the best extent it can, our criminal justice system can play its part in restoring identity, restoring mana, and strengthening whanaungatanga.

But the long term answer to the wholly disproportionate representation of Māori will lie in a lot of different areas, not the least of which is continuing the journey to restore the mana of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi through effective partnership relationships.

Drawing Māori in and drawing on Mātauranga Māori across the whole justice system will be an important step. The Government is committed to exploring how we do this.

The reports released today provide an important foundation for a different future for our criminal justice system.

Reducing offending and re-offending, and making our communities safer are paramount.

Strengthening the voice and place of victims of crime in the system is vital.

And responding more effectively to the troubled people who enter our justice system, wherever they came into contact with it, is essential.

I conclude with this point. There are differing views across the political spectrum on how to respond to the challenges of the criminal justice system and making our communities safer.

Although, possibly the views don’t differ that much. For example, our friends in the National Party are seeking feedback on a policy that would see therapeutic services offered to prisoners on remand. Typically, remand prisoners don’t get much in the way of help, such as addiction services, because they haven’t been found guilty of an offence yet.  But if they need help, they should get it. And they should get it on the basis that doing so doesn’t constitute an admission of guilt on their part.

We agree with the National Party on this.

When I look around at other parts of the world where criminal justice reform has taken place, it has been most sensibly done on a bi-partisan basis.

The United States has done this at a federal level and in some states. This time last year, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, in a deal brokered by the President, passed the First Step Act which funded new programmes in federal prisons to assist prisoners on release. Federal prison numbers have been falling since.

In Texas, a similar thing happened, although it started a few year ago. Ten years ago, Texas had 15 youth detention facilities. As a result of far-sighted and bi-partisan decisions, it now has just four. And crime is falling.

We’ve seen political bidding wars over criminal justice over the past 30 years in New Zealand. It has led us to where we are today. It has cost our country billions. And our re-offending rate is unchanged.

This Government remains committed to effective changes that turn offenders’ lives around, reduce offending and make our communities safer. That’s what matters most.

And we will make change at a pace the community understands, and in a way that keeps their confidence.

I hope our colleagues across the House will join us in this challenge that I know we all care about. I invite them to do so.

And I’m calling on you, the thought leaders in this room, to join with us too.

Nō reira, tēnā kotou, tēnā kotou, tēnā tatou katoa.

Thank you.

Update 12 December 2019 at 11.04am to reflect changes at delivery.