The Indian Weekender has presented concerns of Kiwi-Indian communities, mainly dairy store and small business owners who are often at the receiving end of aggravated assaults and robberies, in unequivocal terms to the Criminal Justice Advisory Group.  

The Government’s Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group – Te Uepu Hapai i te Ora – has been tasked with the goal of getting public feedback on a criminal justice system which the current Minister of Justice Andrew Little has described as “broken.”

Toward this goal, a public hui was held in New Lynn Community Centre on Wednesday, March 13, where the Advisory Group spoke with the members of public and advocacy groups for getting their feedback on how to reform the current criminal justice system.

Several members of public including victims of crime, advocacy groups, social researchers and experts working in the justice sector, came together to express their views on what’s working and what’s not working in the current criminal justice system.

The Advisory Group included the Chair, former Minister for Courts Chester Borrows, and three other members including Dr Jarrod Gilbert, Dr Carwyn Jones and Shila Nair.

After the initial introduction, the audience was divided into small groups with members of the Advisory Group to facilitate meaningful conversation in a relaxed environment.

Though not many from the Kiwi-Indian community were present on occasion to share their first-hand experience or expectations from the criminal justice system that is supposedly up for being re-minted once the Advisory Group can come up with recommendations, yet The Indian Weekender ensured that the opportunity was not wasted.

Major concerns raised

One of the major concerns of the Kiwi-Indian community, particularly that of small business owners which were raised with the Advisory Board was of seeming contradiction between the growing political sentiments around the idea of reducing the number of incarcerations and keeping the communities safe.

It was stated in unequivocal terms that while the idea of reducing the number of incarcerations is entirely acceptable and understandable, the talks around it do create more anxiety, rather than assuring ethnic communities, especially dairy owners and small business owners, who are at higher risk of victimisation, about their safety.

“There is no disagreement at all with the oft-repeated statement that prisons are moral and fiscal failure and our society should strive to reach a stage where we can safely get rid of prisons,” the editor of The Indian Weekender Sandeep Singh said.

“However, getting to that stage, and keeping everyone safe till we get to that stage, is the real concern for our communities. Unfortunately, there is not much clarity in the current public narrative and political noises around this issue,” Mr Singh said.

“Those who call for a reduction in incarceration numbers should offer tangible road maps for how to keeping communities safe as well,” he added.

Interestingly, this gnawing concern of the Kiwi-Indian and other ethnic communities was acknowledged by the members of the Advisory Board in the public hui.

However, it remains to be seen how efficiently these concerns will be relayed back to the government and some meaningful solutions implemented.

Other issues raised in the public hui

The workshop was appraised of several other teething problems facing New Zealand society including about victim experiences, social conditions driving recidivism and repeat offending, high rate of Maori-incarcerations, inequalities within the prison and all-pervading systemic racism within the justice system.

Our assessment – “Too ambitious a project”

A careful observation of this recent criminal justice public hui, which along with surveys, forms the key tools of informing the government about broad public views on criminal justice system has led the Indian Weekender to make following observations.

•    The intent of the Criminal Justice Advisory Group in taking genuine feedback and opinions is pure gold. The manner in which almost everyone present in the public hui was encouraged to share their views and ideas is exemplary. Indeed, it continues to motivate the members of the public to come out and express their opinions of how the criminal justice system is failing them, if at all.

•    Given that the Advisory Group is busy in engaging with ideas and views on issues as diverse as inequality in prison inhabitants, to all-pervading racism in the justice system and higher rates of Maori incarceration to how victims are failed by the system, points towards the fact that the entire project of bringing transformational reforms is too ambitious.

•    The fact that the Advisory Group is required to report back to the government in April this year and then formulate “recommendations and report again to the government” in August suggests the time constraint to come up with some transformational changes in the Criminal Justice System. It will be really miraculous if any real transformational changes are brought-in the criminal justice system after this entire exercise.

•    It is likely that what might immediately come out from this entire exercise of reforming criminal justice system could possibly be some consolidation of government departments and reallocation of responsibilities, which though much needed, but would hardly qualify as “transformational.”

•    However, if the government succeeds in bringing out transformational changes, especially of reducing incarceration rates, without making communities more unsafe than they currently are, that would be nothing less than a miracle.