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We’re working together for a more compassionate justice system

At the beginning of this year, ActionStation members voted for us to focus some of our collective campaign energy and time on building a more compassionate justice system that prioritises prevention of harm, rehabilitation of people who cause harm and restoration of relationships over punishing people and locking them up in prisons.

Here's our Director, Laura, explaining our broken justice system in an interview with The Hui:

We started our year of justice campaigning with a powerful letter-writing collaboration with JustSpeak. 1,400 members of the ActionStation and JustSpeak communities wrote letters to Justice Minister Andrew Little and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis urging them not to go ahead with the previous government's plans to build a billion dollar prison in Waikeria.

Here's JustSpeak Director Tania delivering the letters to Parliament and our Director Laura talking about the campaign to Māori Television:

As a result of this effort, and the efforts of JustSpeak and others before that, the new mega-prison did not go ahead!

The prison would have cost a billion dollars. But we want billion dollar investments in our communities. Investments in initiatives that would genuinely help people - like better housing, drug and alcohol treatment, great mental health services and community-based rehabilitation.

Here are some examples of what people wrote in those letters:

“Our levels of incarceration are extraordinarily high, and this helps neither the victims nor the incarcerated people. NZ’s rate is shameful, and that’s not even taking into account the appalling proportion of the prison population who are Māori or Pasifika. Prison needs to be a last resort, we need to focus on non-punitive responses that ACTUALLY rehabilitate people, and address the underlying issues that have turned people on to this path. Prison is expensive, it takes people away from society, and helps separate them further by making it considerably harder to rejoin normal society once they are released.”
— Lucy, 30, Wellington

“I’ve been in the prison system and another mega prison is not the answer. We need rehabilitation centres an specialists.”
— Eliza, 68, Kawerau

“We need to draw a line in the sand. The need for new prisons will increase unless we do, locking people up, fracturing whānau in environments that will perpetuate the problems that cause prisons to be needed. We need to learn from other countries how to turn the tide; how we can get to the heart of why we have the problems we do and rehabilitate offenders in ways that will make a difference. We need to learn from other countries who are achieving this. …if we keep doing the same thing we will keep getting the same outcome.”
— Jan, 70, Tauranga

Here's JustSpeak spokesperson, Julia Whaipooti, speaking about the need to build communities, not prisons:

The success of this campaign was a victory for people power and values and evidence-based policy.

Whaea Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho, Laura O’Connell Rapira and the fourth-year medical students at Otago University

Another major highlight of this year was the launch of our community-powered and collaborative research report on Māori perspectives on the justice system.

The report features the perspectives of over 900 Māori and it was crowdfunded into the world by 163 members of the ActionStation community. Our launch was covered by NZ Herald, RNZ, TVNZ, The Hui, NewstalkZB, Newshub and more.

Our report calls for three big solutions to our justice crisis:

  1. Early intervention of harm (e.g. fully-funded, culturally appropriate and accessible social services, great education and wrap around support that includes whānau and is based on tikanga);
  2. A kinder, fairer economy that ensures everyone has enough income to live with dignity;
  3. Government support of, and funding for, hapū and iwi-led solutions and alternatives to the current justice system.

To create the report, we collaborated with fourth-year medical students from the University of Otago in Wellington who did the analysis under the supervision of Māori public health researcher Whaea Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho. We also had five amazing volunteers who helped set up and run our launch event - a true people-powered effort!

You can check out the video launch of our report here, read the report in full here or read just the Executive Summary here.

Next year we’ll be working with JustSpeak once again to train and organise ActionStation members, and others, to visit and call every MP in the country to talk about the need for compassionate justice reform. Get in touch with [email protected] if you're interested in signing up.

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