Putanga 30, 2014
Thirty years ago Neville Baker, Chairman of Te Rūnanganui o Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o Te Ika, was involved in producing a report to government that recommended a new way of engaging with Māori who ended up “in the system”.
Puao-te-ata-tu = day break: the report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Māori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare highlighted the need to utilise people in the community who understood families and whakapapa and the benefits of talking to people in their own environment. Neville says it’s been a long wait but he is starting to see those ideas realised with Whānau Ora and a pilot restorative justice approach being trialled at Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt.
The objective of the pilot scheme is to divert low-level offenders away from and out of the criminal justice system. Working with New Zealand Police, Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley Restorative Justice team, and Ministry of Justice with the assistance of Te Puni Kōkiri; Te Rūnanganui o Taranaki Whānui has designed, developed and implemented an alternative resolutions process that involves low-level offenders engaging in a panel process that holds them accountable for their actions but without the stigma of a criminal conviction. Around forty people have had their offences dealt with by the panel to date.
The panel is chaired by Neville Baker, facilitated by Community Law and includes kaumātua and pakeke from marae in the Hutt Valley along with Kaitoko Whānau and Oranga Whānau advocates. The NZ Police identify low-level offenders and refer them to Community Law. While the panel is a Māori led initiative but the offenders come from a cross section of ethnicities that are represented in the Hutt Valley.
Tui Dunlop from Community Law explains the process, “We have a pre panel meeting with the offender and the victim (where applicable) and record some background notes which include a number of factors around the offending and what was going on for the offender and the victim at the time, these notes are then given to the panel to read prior to the meeting.”
Tui says the Rūnanga has enabled the process of working collaboratively across agencies. “Working with the Rūnanga is central to the process, they have the whakapapa links and community knowledge that we don’t have. Each agency involved brings their own resources to the table to make this work — pūtea, knowledge, networks.”
It is a sentiment shared by panel member Linda Pahi from Ōrongomai Marae. “The members of the panel bring a range of experience to the table which is awesome. Most of us have experience working in social services and have the best interests of the community in mind. It’s very rewarding work.”
Te Puni Kōkiri Whanganui ā Tara Regional Manager Hata Wilson agrees. “We have brokered relationships, provided advice for what works for Māori and what doesn’t, and worked alongside Te Rūnanganui o Taranaki Whānui to realise their vision. This is a positive step for our community and wider government. If we can mitigate the costs of putting low level offenders through the court systems and deal with offending in a positive way that restores justice and maintains dignity, then that’s a great outcome for everybody.”
Neville says the panel is a good example of iwi working with government agencies to deliver better outcomes and positive change. “What we see is a recidivist situation that’s been going on for 100 years. Iwi need to focus on the things that make life good, invest in education and training – no more prisons. Change will eventually come to pass, from being seen as a people who need to be incarcerated to a healthier Māori New Zealander.”