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#JusticeSolutions New Zealand tour – Ministry of Justice

In the second blog reflecting on the observations of our #JusticeSolutions tour of New Zealand, Jesuit Social Services’ General Manager – Justice Programs DANIEL CLEMENTS writes that the NZ Government has committed to engage New Zealand citizens in a public conversation around what we valued as a society.

Several days into our #JusticeSolutions tour of New Zealand, we have already met with a variety of people working in the justice sector, spanning Government, non-Government and philanthropy.

We have heard of difficulties over many years including the use of double bunking in NZ prisons, the recommissioning of old police stations that were already past their use-by-date to house offenders and the importation of modular prison cells from China.

These issues have led New Zealand politicians, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Justice to the realization that they couldn’t keep building prisons and prompted them to re-think their approach to criminal justice.

More recently this has led to the establishment of the Hapaitia te Oranga Tangata, Safe and Effective Justice Program.

The program is “about developing long-term solutions to keep people safe, allow communities to thrive, and build a justice system that we can all be proud of.”

We had the opportunity to meet with Aphra Green, General Manager, Strategy, Evidence and Investment and her team of Senior Staff from the Ministry of Justice.

Aphra outlined the approach of the team that incorporates an actuarial social investment model and a shift away from targets to “look at issues from a range of angles” including a focus on wellbeing.

She outlined the work done by the department prior to NZ’s 2017 election in response to the challenges facing their criminal justice system. This work has contributed to what the Government views as a 30 year challenge designed to address the needs of a system that lacked “core purpose” and had gravitated to a diminished focus – controlling risk.

More recently, under the current Labor government, was the drive to engage New Zealand citizens in a “public conversation around what we valued as a society.”

The end result was a national justice summit held in August 2018 with six key themes emerging, including the importance of a justice system that:

  • reflects the values of New Zealanders
  • provides an opportunity for Maori to lead solutions for Maori people
  • offers victims better support
  • has a focus on prevention and rehabilitation
  • empowers wh?nau and communities, and
  • delivers system-wide transformation.

Aphra indicated that the media is reporting with more complexity and nuance on justice issues, something beginning to occur.

In addition, the Ministry has implemented a new approach modeled on the aviation and transport industries. That is, when things go wrong, bring the right people together to investigate and look at what we can learn in what Aphra described as a “no fault process”.

A  central tenet of the Ministry’s work has been research around social investment and the criminal justice system and the use of data to better understand life course patterns and needs.

This detailed research has offered key lessons including:

  • the importance of a focus on 14-16 year olds at high risk of re-offending and  of support for victims of crime
  • insight into offending patterns that require additional response;
  • clarity around the gaps in service provision including therapeutic support and intervention.

Aphra and her team don’t shy away from the body of work that needs to be done to improve the response for people and their families who intersect the criminal justice system.

Their work is providing the NZ Government with clear strategic directions in how to reduce the prison population, support a wellbeing agenda and strengthen the connection between the Ministry and policymakers.