Rangatahi Courts are an initiative that locates part of the youth court process in a Māori cultural setting. The aim is to address the over-representation of young Māori in the justice system by providing the best possible rehabilitative response. The Courts encourage strong cultural links and meaningfully involving local Māori communities in the youth justice process, while monitoring a young person’s progress using a Family Group Conferencing process. There are now ten Rangatahi Courts operating on marae around the country.
Pasifika Youth Courts are based on the Rangatahi Court concept and aim to improve outcomes for Pacific youth. An important aim of the initiative is to develop a partnership between the Court and the Pacific community. One Pasifika Youth Court has been established at a Pacific cultural centre in Mangere.
Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts encourage more involvement for whānau and community in the justice process. In his keynote speech at the opening of Manurewa Marae Rangatahi Court in 2009, Judge Becroft said “What we know is that young Māori who are connected to their identity and culture don’t offend anymore that non Māori.”189 Community connections are key “to make justice what is should be – a partnership between the courts and the community, each dependant on the other.”190
The Courts are not a separate system of justice for Māori and Pacific people but a way of using the marae or cultural centre and tikanga Māori or Pacific culture within the Youth Court legal structure. The Courts monitor the young person’s progress through a family group conference plan. This involves frequent judicial reviews (fortnightly in most cases) by the same judge, allowing a relationship to build between the judge and young person. So far, only those young people who admit the charge(s) they are facing are offered the opportunity to have their next hearing on the marae or at the Pasifika Youth Court.
At the Rangatahi Court, protocol and participation of the young person, their whānau and community re-enforces responsibility and the development of cultural identity. Each hearing begins with the young person receiving a direct mihi from a kaumatua, showing respect to that young person and acknowledging their whānau and hapū links. This inherently places a responsibility on the young person to reciprocate with dignity. Throughout proceedings people of the marae and community are present. In the marae setting, young people are under the gaze of their elders and ancestors. The Rangatahi Court encourages whānau to play an active role in the court monitoring of their young person. Whānau accompany the young person to the hearing and are given an opportunity to address the judge and marae. Affording whānau this voice also calls on the responsibility of whānau to provide positive guidance for their young people.
Relationships with the community are deepened through tikanga elements including pōwhiri, harirū, sharing kai and whānaungatanga. Each young person is given the opportunity, to acknowledge their cultural identity when they respond to the court and in so doing, acknowledge responsibility not just to the ‘victims’ or the law but also to their marae and community.
While the Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts represent a positive approach to acknowledging the importance of Māori and Pacific cultural frameworks, they do not necessarily address the underlying causes of structural discrimination and bias in the criminal justice system. As mentioned previously, care must be taken so that inclusion of cultural frameworks is not tokenized and upheld as a “silver bullet” strategy without carefully examining the nature of embedded systemic bias and socio-economic inequalities.
As at April 2011, 282 young people have had, or are scheduled to have, their case monitored in a Rangatahi or Pasifika Court.191
Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts are just two examples of court initiatives to encourage community involvement in the criminal justice system and give families and victims a greater voice. The initiative is part of the wider whole-of-government “Addressing the Drivers of Crime” approach to reducing offending and victimisation established in 2009. The approach focuses on early intervention programmes such as increased support for parents and children; reducing harm caused by alcohol and drugs; and reducing re-offending. “Lifting Māori outcomes” is one of the priorities of the initiative. 192
Based on observations and reporting on the process, the following factors can be identified as key to the early success and potential of Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts effective in reducing reoffending and rehabilitating young people:
Connection to cultural identity, whānau and community.
The Courts are a community-based response to youth offending, strongly dependant on the local community and local marae or cultural centre.
The Courts have strong leadership from Judges and Government Ministers have voiced their support at Rangatahi or Pasifika Youth Court opening events.
The Courts are also supported by Ministry of Justice staff, both local and national
The sustainability of the Rangatahi Courts relies on ongoing collaboration across government, marae, government agencies and service providers, community and whānau. Sustainability and future growth is also heavily reliant on Māori and Pacific judges. Low numbers of Māori and Pacific judges may not be able to meet ongoing demand to establish new Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts.
Case-study 3: Māori Focus Units
The Department of Corrections established its first Māori Focus Unit (MFU) at Hawkes Bay prison in 1997. The purpose of the units is to reduce re-offending rates amongst offenders. The fundamental expectation of the MFU approach is that through developing a personal commitment to tikanga Māori values, offenders become less criminally motivated.
A further four MFUs have been established since 1997. Most operate in stand-alone 60-bed units and all are within prison grounds. One element of the Units is the Māori Therapeutic Programme. Significantly, the Māori Therapeutic Programme is largely designed, developed and delivered by Māori. Contracted providers have designed and developed the programme with minimal input by the Department, but delivery is totally contracted to Māori service providers. Other activities include tikanga-based courses and activities, regular involvement of local iwi groups and functioning prisoner-staff forums for decision-making. The Department commissioned an evaluation of the Units and produced a report in 2009.193 The reports’ findings are summarised below.
In the interview process conducted for the evaluation, participants and staff at the Units talked of a cohesive and co-operative environment that prisoners found engaging and rewarding. The Units were typically described as being a “positive” environment, in contrast to the environment in mainstream units: ‘the MFU has a whānau atmosphere ... there’s respect for each other, it’s structured, and there’s lots of tautoko if someone slips up.” (p 25)
The Corrections Officers were described as helpful and caring: “They are more inclined to help you ... give you lots of support ... compared to staff in other units, they show they care about us” (p 25). Unit staff commented that they were often accused by staff in other units of being more permissive, although they applied the same rules and standards as in other units. The staff commented that a high level of rapport between prisoners and staff meant that incidents were relatively rare. There was a high level of satisfaction from unit staff and management with the extent to which unit staff embraced the kaupapa of the units.
The units were described as “a great place to learn” (p 24). Te reo courses were found to be popular and well-attended. Participants reported development in tikanga Māori and strengthened cultural identity and a desire to continue this development in future. Psychometric data gathered for the evaluation showed positive progressions in offenders’ thinking patterns. Correctional research shows strong correlation between criminal thinking patterns and likelihood of relapse into re-offending behaviour.
Consequently, the data presented here are important: such findings may be the first published which demonstrate that participants in a culturally-enhanced cognitive-behavioural programme do indeed demonstrate change in terms of criminal thinking. (p 28)
A key message promoted through the MFUs is the importance of taking a positive and productive role within one’s whānau. Participants reported improved whānau relationships and greater motivation to be part of whānau and committed to other whānau members. All MFUs evaluated had a Whānau Liaison Officer and all staff interviewed regarded this as an important and valuable service. A well established principle of correctional research is that offenders who establish themselves in a stable family situation are significantly less likely to re-offend.
Key challenges in strengthening the effectiveness and culture of the MFUs are in creating better stability. Bringing prisoners serving short sentences in to the units increased turnover and threatened stability. Another threat to the positive environment was placement in the units of prisoners who did not choose to be there. These issues will continue to be addressed. The influence of gang allegiances, and how staff respond to gang membership, is another ongoing issue for MFUs.
Because of the small sample used in the evaluation, evidence of reduced re-offending amongst participants was not conclusive. However, the evaluation found measurable changes in criminal thinking patterns and the development of culturally-based motivations and affiliation. The report states that “taken as a whole, the evidence supports expectations that culturally-based interventions have potential to reduce re-offending”.