There’s hope the government’s Criminal Justice Summit will be more than just talk.

The two-day conference kicked off last night, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called on all those present to share their experiences and ideas over the coming days.

Published in Radio New Zealand

Many in attendance will be doing just that and are hoping the government will to act to improve New Zealand’s justice record.

Ken Clearwater, a national advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, is speaking on a panel at the summit today.

“Our biggest problem or issue, is that male victims of sexual violence or domestic violence are not seen as a problem and that nobody seems to be interested in talking about female offenders,” he said.

He wants it better known the that many men are also victims and hopes for increased support in the area.

Rionn Harford is a Whānau Ora practitioner in Whanganui, who’s just helped an ex-prisoner reconnect with his family.

“Just imagine if we had more of our support people under Whānau Ora, helping our men,” he said.

Rangi Pou first went to prison when he was 17, then found himself back inside a jail cell later in life.

Since getting out, he started Choose to Change, a group that works with men in and out of prison to make positive changes in their lives.

He has his fingers crossed the summit will ultimately help the groups working at ground level.

“Probably about 90 percent of me thinks it’s going to be a talk-fest. But there’s a bit of hope that we might get something happening.”

They all say the government needs a plan to tackle the country’s high incarceration and recidivism rates, which have only been growing.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged this in her opening speech, saying it’s no ones fault but it has to change.

“Let’s tip the balance to stories we can be proud of. Please lend us your experience, your expertise,” she asked of those gathered.

“Technical experts and academics who’ve studied all elements of criminal justice, and those of you who work in our justice system, those of you who’ve been in our justice system.

“Your views and ideas are essential to contribute as we take our next steps in building on this programme of work to solve one of the toughest problems we have on our agenda.”

In her speech she pointed to groups like Gandhi Nivas, which provides intervention services for families, helping both victims and offenders.

Rakesh Naidoo works at the Human Rights Commission and before this role was an inspector and ethnic advisor with the police.

He sits on the board of Ghandi Nivas and says the work the programme does is incredibly important.

“Basically what it does is allows the women and children to stay in their own home while the perpetrator is removed, and offered free counselling as well as a free place to stay when they have a police order served on them.”

Ms Ardern said the Government just last week invested further in the work of this programme, and that early intervention is where the government’s sights are now.

Tania Sawicki Mead, an advocate for Just Speak, is hoping the government isn’t just all talk on its plans for reform.

“We have talked about this for decades, and we still haven’t made the changes that we know are necessary to reduce crime, to reduce harm, and to invest in the kinds of solutions that we know would work really well for New Zealand.”

The Criminal Justice Summit runs through until Wednesday night in Porirua.

By Gia Garrick
Published in Radio New Zealand
21 August 2019