Why a radical approach is needed to fix our broken justice system


New Zealanders have long grappled with an obsession with criminal justice expansions, even though crime rates are on the decline.

We tell ourselves: “Just another thousand police officers. Just one more prison. It’ll be fine after that. We promise we’ll stop there. They’ll be better. We won’t need any more.”

Of course, the impacts of our overuse have been pretty harmful.

We spend an enormous amount of money, time and resources on criminal justice measures. There are sustained levels of trauma in targeted communities. There are high reoffending rates. Victims don’t sense they are believed or supported. New Zealanders often report they worry about safety.

Māori are by far and wide the most affected by the harms of this system – disproportionately likely to be arrested, charged and incarcerated, and as a group the most likely to experience harm as well.

Amid the emotion, some politicians do their best to convince us of one more “getting tough” hit.

But the dominant talk of late has been focused on rethinking our situation.

Over the past two years, government-established bodies such as Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora – The Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group have outlined New Zealand’s urgent need for this.

It is strikingly clear the current system that relies on disproportionate levels of criminalisation, enforcement and adversarial approaches is not working for us, and cannot remain in place. There has been a lot of talk about how criminal justice should be transformed, decolonised, defunded or radically reformed.

And a radical approach is all the more necessary as we grapple with the impact Covid-19 and the economic hardships it has created will have on marginalised communities, particularly Māori, who have largely been shut out of the government’s crisis response.

Yet, what to do next? It is one thing to call for change, another to build new solutions. Our criminal justice habits are hard to break.

One solution explored in a new report by Just Speak lies in the idea and practice of justice reinvestment.

JR programmes have a simple aim: to redirect spending on criminal justice into social justice initiatives that strengthen communities and reduce social harms, including offending behaviours.

Sounds good, right?

There is no “one size fits all” approach to justice reinvestment but successful projects are community-led, place-based and data-driven. What do these three steps mean in practice? Continue reading

Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , ,