The union for prison and probation officers, Ministry of Justice staff, social workers and mental health professionals says a renewed emphasis on rehabilitation and treatment signals a long overdue departure from failed punitive policies.
"We need to deal with the realities and root causes of crime and the racism in our current system. This means confronting the shameful fact that New Zealand has one of the highest percentages of its population behind bars in the developed world, with Māori over represented in particular," says PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay.
"Poverty, alienation, drug addiction and the mental health crisis all feed into these grim statistics, and we strongly support the government’s commitment to a fresh approach. People need more support before, during and after being incarcerated to help them stop re-offending and find work and housing."
The two reports released today by Justice Minister Andrew Little are based on extensive engagement with a range of New Zealand communities, and propose independent mechanisms to allow for Māori leadership in tackling the disproportionate number of Māori serving prison sentences.
Despite this engagement, however, there is little attention given in the reports to the needs and perspectives of workers employed in the criminal justice system. The PSA calls for this to change, and in particular for Māori workers to be included moving forward.
"Locking people up and throwing away the key simply does not work. It doesn’t deter criminals and it doesn’t reduce offending. It has massive impacts on families that flow through generations," says Mr Barclay.
"Instead our prisons are overcrowded and their resources are stretched thin, putting both corrections staff and inmates in danger. If the government wants these reforms to succeed, they need to listen to what workers have to say and give them an increased role in both design and delivery."
See also: Interim justice review emphasizes need for change
The PSA welcomes the interim justice report released yesterday by Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora - the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group, which made a clear case for change in the criminal justice system.
The report outlined some significant findings, including the disproportionate representation of Māori in prisons, the failure of ‘tough on crime’ approaches, and victims reporting feeling revictimised by the system.
"The major issues highlighted in the report are all of great concern, and the PSA is in full support of a system transformation to address these," says national secretary Glenn Barclay.
"These are issues that should be of concern to all political parties and it is important that this review is seen as an opportunity to remove political gamesmanship from the corrections/justice arena. Substantial change is required and we all need to take a longer term view,"
"In line with this, the PSA supports the call from Chester Burrows for a cross party committee to be formed that can look at justice sector reform in an ongoing way."
The disproportionate representation of Māori in prisons, who make up 16% of the general population yet 51% of prison populations, was regularly noted as an area of high priority to be addressed.
"It is vital that the system work to better address the needs of Māori, Pacific peoples, refugee and migrant communities and minority groups, and engagement with Māori and wider minority groups on this will be crucial," says Mr Barclay.
"The PSA has for a long time emphasized the need for greater involvement of Māori in the Public Service as part of the effort to improve the responsiveness of public services. The Justice sector needs to become a better place for Māori to work, as well as there being better engagement with iwi and the wider Māori community".
While the report highlighted many problems, the PSA supports many of the suggestions to come out of the interim report including the need for a better integration between the justice and mental health systems and the need to address the siloed nature of government services.
The PSA intends to be involved actively on the next phase of the review, and PSA members working in the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Corrections will be invited to contribute.
"The PSA wants to be part of building a future-focused justice system that contributes to safety and wellbeing, and we will represent the voices of those who work in the system,"
"It is crucial that those who are working in the system are a part of the strategic discussion and formation of policies and approaches."