A Law Foundation-backed project is helping the National Iwi Chairs Forum develop a new basis for interacting with the state to achieve better outcomes for young Māori offenders.
The “engagement framework” will be developed by iwi, with assistance from Judge Carolyn Henwood and Jennifer George of the Henwood Trust.
Judge Henwood says the support by iwi chairs to develop the framework shows their strong desire to reduce the high numbers of young Māori in the justice system.
“I believe that only Māori can change the landscape by acting to stop the flow of their children into state care, whether it is care and protection or prisons. This is about iwi chairs taking on their own strategy,” she says.
Judge Henwood has a strong record of work on effective strategies for young offenders through the Henwood Trust, set up for the purpose.
In 2014 her book New Zealand’s Gift to the World – The Youth Justice Family Group Conference, co-written with Stephen Stratford, she made recommendations on how our world-leading process could be improved following 25 years in practice.
A key finding was that the family group conference system was failing young Māori, who make up more than 60% of Youth Court convictions. The study found that while family group conferences were the right model for Māori, engagement with whanau, iwi and hapu had fallen away.
Then Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft said: “We have not seen the vision of partnership with Māori delivered under the [Children Young Persons and their Families] Act. This is one of the great tragedies. What theoretically would allow for partnership with Māori has regressed into a state-run system, and we are back where we were in 1989, with Māori not involved in the main operational and decision-making processes. It has become a government run and controlled operation.”
The latest project delivers on the book’s recommendation for iwi to provide greater leadership and resolve to work with the state to implement the family group conference system as envisaged.
Judge Henwood says she was introduced to Sir Mark Solomon about three years ago and was invited to make a presentation to iwi chairs in 2013. Since then, a working party has been set up by Naida Glavish, co-chair of Ngāti Whatua, to take the book’s recommendation forward. Its members are Lorraine Toki of Ngāpuhi, Tame Te Rangi of Ngāti Whatua, Tu Williams of Whakatohea and Jennifer George.
“The framework will propose a way for lawyers, the judicial liaison group, Police, Corrections and CYF to relate to iwi when a young person comes to notice for offending behaviour,” she says.
Discussions on the framework have already had a tangible result. The iwi chairs have agreed that each iwi will maintain a register of “go-to” people that state agencies can contact when care and protection issues come up.
“A lot of this stuff is operational. There is a lot of goodwill around. Any society should ask how we can do justice better – this is the one that is impacting the most in youth justice,” Judge Henwood says.
With input from Judge Henwood, the Iwi Chairs Justice Iwi Leaders Group is working with the iwi chairs to develop the framework. The group is co-chaired by Naida Glavish and Rahui Papa (Tainui-Waikato). Justice Joe Williams is also expected to add valuable advice.
Judge Henwood says the framework, which should be finished in September, will show what the new engagement system will look like. The next stage will be to go around each tribe to work out the detail.
“This is about iwi leading the way and engaging with the state on better outcomes for Māori youth. It is their challenge. We are just helping where we can with the legwork and the thinking. I hope that it will come up with a few solid things that can really make a difference,” she says.
The Law Foundation is very happy to support this collaborative initiative and its aspirational goals with funding.
The Law Foundation provided funding for the iwi engagement framework and for the book, New Zealand’s Gift to the World – The Youth Justice Family Group Conference (which was also supported by the Tindall Foundation and the Todd Foundation). For more information on the book, go to the list of research publications on the Law Foundation website at www.lawfoundation.org.nz/?page_id=2568 and it will be found under 2014 listings.
Lynda Hagen is the Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation.