New Zealand's criminal justice system isn't serving victims, offenders or whānau.
Calls for urgent reform have not been met with action. Derek Cheng looks at where the system is failing, and why the Government refuses to front.
It's been three years since the Government's justice summit, which led to a series of independent reports about the failures of the criminal justice process.
It isn't serving victims, who feel unheard and disempowered. It isn't serving offenders, who come out of prison highly likely to reoffend. It isn't serving whānau, who are trying to help victims get justice or offenders to rehabilitate.
And it isn't keeping communities safer - countless crimes might have been prevented with less focus on punishment and a greater focus on addressing the drivers of crime.
"We gave the Government our report in August 2019, and they launched it in December 2019," says Chester Borrows, chairman of the Safe and Effective Justice Group.
"And then no one said anything, and basically hasn't since. It appears that nothing's happening."
The criminal justice system was continuing to fail, Borrows says.
"That's absolutely still the case. That's why we need to find out what's happening."
New Zealand has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world at 188 prisoners per 100,000 people. That's higher than Australia (160), the UK (114), Canada (107), and double the rate of most western European nations.
Our recidivism rate - 58 per cent of prisoners are reconvicted within two years - is also higher than in Norway (20 per cent), France (40 per cent), Germany (46 per cent), the UK (48 per cent), and Australia (53 per cent).
And a comparison of 32 nations including the US, Australia, and those in western Europe found that New Zealand's prison population had the highest proportion of violent offenders (18.5 per cent) and sexual offenders (25.2 per cent).
Andrew Little, who was Justice Minister last term, burst from the gates in 2017 with plans to axe the three strikes law and launch the justice summit to tackle what many called a crisis. But his reform plans were stymied by New Zealand First.
Now with a parliamentary majority, many in the justice sector are asking what plan, if any, the Labour Government has.
Silence from the Justice Minister
Little's successor, Kris Faafoi, won't front.
Since the start of November and as recently as 10 days ago he has repeatedly refused requests to be interviewed by the Herald on his plans for the sector.
As National and Act repeatedly cry "soft on crime", this leaves the impression of a Government reluctant to fly the flag of justice reform in case it scares off voters.
"That is a reasonable explanation for his [Faafoi's] utter silence on this issue, and his lack of engagement with the community, who are all waiting," says Tania Sawicki Mead, director of youth justice advocacy group JustSpeak.
After her historic election win last year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted to respect the National voters who ticked Labour for the first time.
"Record-breaking popularity is not a reason for failing to do what is necessary," says Sawicki Mead, "particularly to undo the harms done against marginalised communities, which is what is happening through this inaction".
Adds Borrows, a former National Party MP: "That may well be a sensitivity for her [Ardern], and it wouldn't surprise me if she is really worried about that.
"But we found in all our inquiries is that the voters in middle New Zealand actually get justice reform. You've got no handbrake from NZ First. Isn't now the time to make all these changes that need to happen?
"The tryline is wide open. There's no one in the way. The next thing you know, it'll be close to another election and MPs will get frightened that doing anything will turn off voters."
'Stupid Corrections policies'
Several independent reports on the criminal justice system in 2019 called for urgent change, centred on more community- and Māori-led resolutions to maximise rehabilitation.
Inaia Tonu Nei, We lead: You Follow found a system that "continues to hurt whanau".
"Whānau Māori are having to respond to the intergenerational effects of the racism, bias, abuse and colonisation that the justice system has created, enabled and continues to deliver almost 200 years since the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi," the report said.
The statistics are damning. More than half - 53 per cent - of the prison population is Māori. The average number of charges a Pākehā will have against them on a first appearance is one, but for Māori it's six. The Pākehā rate of incarceration is about a fifth of the Māori rate.
The report followed a hui, where participants felt ready to get stuck into transformational change and partner with those in power, says Jamie-Lee Tuuta, the report's main author.
"There was so much momentum that came from the communities and whānau, but nothing's really happened, and the community push is now lost because it's been so long.
"That's what I'm really disappointed about."
The Safe and Effective Justice Group's report - Turuki! Turiki! - said the system was "failing to help those who are harmed, failing to stop harm and reoffending, failing Māori, racist, culturally blind and culturally biased, failing to meet diverse needs, confusing and alienating, and costly".
Borrows laments ongoing barriers to rehabilitation.
"You've got about 34,000 people going to prison every year. The vast majority are for less than two years, and are released back into the community with no rehabilitation."
Remand prisoners, some of whom wait more than three years for a trial, aren't usually eligible for rehabilitation.
"If you do something serious and you're in the Whanganui Court, the chances of getting a jury trial within two years is zero. If you don't get bail, then you're going to be sitting in prison for two years. No rehabilitation, no courses or programmes. Nothing."
Borrows also laments the lack of common sense, illustrating this with a prisoner with strabismus (cross-eyed).
"He's had the diagnosis for five years while he's been in jail, and no one's ever bought glasses. He's only 30 years old. He wrote a letter to the Parole Board, but it was just hopeless writing because he can't see properly. How humane is that?
"There are people in prison who haven't got glasses and therefore can't read, so they can't do rehabilitation courses. It's the same with guys with hearing aids – these stupid Corrections policies that don't allow people desperately in need of rehabilitation programmes to get on them.
"If you have someone who recognises they have a big problem with drugs and alcohol and is prepared to do a course while on remand, then why not do that?"
There were 6644 prisoners in alcohol and drug programmes five years ago, but last year this dropped to only 1721 prisoners.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says this is because the department scrapped two short intervention programmes that were not as effective as longer interventions.
Borrows fears that his report will be buried and forgotten, like the many before it, and the safety and wellbeing of communities will lose as a result.
Faafoi has not asked Borrows for a meeting.
Optimism for victims
Turiki! Turiki! was released at the same time as Te Tangi o te Manawanui, by chief victims advisor Dr Kim McGregor.
"Victims say the criminal justice system does not help make them safe, does not listen to them, does not give them the information and support they need at each stage of the system, and their overall experiences in the system are negative," the report said.
McGregor has met with Faafoi but has a different take. She is not critical, saying he is committed to improving the system.
"And I believe that's absolutely genuine. In fact, I've spoken to ministers Marama Davidson [Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence], Aupito William Sio [Courts, Associate Justice], and Poto Williams [Police], and I'm impressed with all of them.
"The ministers understand the issues for victims. I'm very hopeful."
Part I: How the justice system is failing New Zealanders