A Maori initiative to address low-level crime as an alternative to prosecution will be trialled in Hawke's Bay.

Hastings is among four new areas to have been chosen to be part of the iwi justice panel programme.

An iwi panel, which is used as an alternative to prosecution, is a meeting at which a panel of community members, an offender, victim and their whānau discuss the offence committed.

They work together to focus on harm caused, develop a plan that addresses factors related to the offending and help get the offender's life on a more positive path.


Iwi panels were trialled in Gisborne, Hutt Valley and Manukau in 2014 with the programme still continuing in these areas.

It will now be rolled out in Hastings, Northland, Papakura, Waikato and Rotorua.

Hastings iwi liaison co-ordinator Sergeant Philip Rowden said he was thrilled that Hastings would be able to use this programme because of overwhelming evidence of its success when it was first trialled three years ago.

"Evidence suggests that these panels have worked extremely well especially for Maori with an almost 12 per cent reduction in offending experienced," he said.

"I see it as a real opportunity to make a positive difference."

Despite its success for Maori, non-Maori will also be eligible for referral, Sergeant Rowden said.

Anyone as long as they are over 17 years of age, have committed a low-level offence and admit responsibility will be able to be referred to the programme.

"An arrested person who fits these criteria will almost certainly be referred to a panel hearing where they will meet with a panellist group whose job will be to discuss the offending and formulate a plan for redress.

"Putting things right for the victim as soon as possible is absolutely paramount.

"The panel group will be made up of community-minded people who will have the ability to effect positive change either through their own skills, knowledge and wisdom or through their connectedness to the community especially in the areas of employment and health."

Addressing rather than punishing behaviour is key and while people still need to be held to account, leading people to a better life pathway will be the iwi panel's ultimate goal, Sergeant Rowden said.

Having a new initiative like this in Hastings would be beneficial due to its success elsewhere, he said.

"Given the evidence . . . it's absolutely great, it's fantastic.

"Police can't wait to adopt this alternative process."

Adults who commit a low-level offence such as shoplifting or careless driving can be referred to the panel by police before they are charged.

They will be invited to participate in finding a solution or to remedy the effects of their crime.

Panels adopt a problem-solving approach to address factors that contribute to offending.

For example, panels may refer offenders to education or training programmes (among other social services) or ask them to commit to good behaviour for a certain period of time.

For Maori offenders, panels aim to build whanaungatanga (kinship/sense of family connection).

The Hastings programme is still in the planning stages but is expected to be underway by the end of the year.

The programme will be trialled in Hastings for two years before being assessed as to its success.