Why governments fail to arrest rising crime

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Massey University, Palmerston North

Unwillingness by the state to include prisoners in discussions about rehabilitation is one of the factors that has contributed to New Zealand’s dire crime statistics, says leading social justice advocate Dr Kim Workman.

He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at a Massey University Manawatū campus graduation ceremony on May 10, 2017.

Dr Workman said in his speech to College of Humanities and Social Sciences graduates that social policy is formed “in the absence of external dialogue. No government in the last 30 years has, in developing criminal justice policy, seen fit to consult with prisoners.”

Stereotyping offenders

“As a result, we have developed a ‘criminology of the other,’ in which offenders are stereotyped as members of a dangerous under-class.”

A former Police Officer-turned Prison Reformer, Dr Workman has introduced restorative justice conferences into prisons over the last decade, together with ex-prisoner Jackie Katounas. Now 76, he says his work is far from done.

Dr Workman began studying sociology part-time by distance at Massey University in 1972 and obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1983. He studied Business Administration at Stanford University and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Religious Studies from Victoria University, which awarded him an Honorary Doctorate last year.

In his graduation speech on May 10, he recalled his early introduction to questioning the status quo and acknowledged Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, who, he said, recently asked his students: “‘What does it mean to be a New Zealander in the 21st century?’ He then continued, ‘The question is the same as in the 1970s and 1980s, but the answer is going to be different.’”

“I came to Massey University in 1974, seeking an answer to that very question. As a Senior Sergeant of Police, and a Maori, I found myself caught between the competing factions of the decade – issues such as race relations, the anti-war movement, Maori development and women’s rights. It was a decade of active listening, debate, reflection, and the occasional sound of a penny dropping,” he said.

Turning Point

A turning point came in 1983 when he decided to take a final paper in Women’s Studies, finding himself the only male among 68 students, many of whom did not want him there.

“They (women students) needed the opportunity to talk freely with other women, to share their experiences, and understand the oppression in their own lives. The lecturer declined to grant me an exemption, and I stayed for the full three days. I made myself invisible, and listened as women debated and discussed their place in society, and the way in which women were routinely patronised and treated as less important than men, by society, politicians and the media. It caused me to reflect on my personal attitude toward my wife and daughters, on police reluctance to intervene in cases of domestic violence, and the lack of women in senior management. It was quite a learning curve,” he said.

The great lessons

The experience taught him two things. “First, we need opportunity and space to talk within our own communities of interest, to raise consciousness, and plan for challenge and change. Second, that we need to create places to listen to  ‘communities of the other’, in order to constantly challenge our own attitudes.”

Government must be more innovative, he said. This might mean taking risks – introducing effective approaches to rehabilitation may conflict with the political and public emphasis on punishment.

“The current resistance to the establishment of Kaupapa Maori prisons is a case in point. The success of Kaupapa Maori education and health services would suggest that a Kaupapa Maori prison might stand a better chance of success than what currently exists, given the poor reoffending rates currently achieved,” he said.

Interesting career

Dr Workman, (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitaane), grew up in Greytown with his Pakeha mother, Maori father and three sisters. Despite failing School Certificate twice, he joined the Police as a cadet – his first encounter with the criminal justice system.

His career has included roles in the Police, the Office of the Ombudsman, State Services Commission, Department of Maori Affairs and Ministry of Health. He was Head of the Prison Service from 1989 to 1993. He was appointed National Director, Prison Fellowship New Zealand in 2000, and retired from that position in 2008. The fellowship established the first faith-based prison unit in the British Commonwealth, a mentoring programme for released prisoners, and was the principal provider of in-prison restorative justice services.

Honours and Awards

In 2005, Dr Workman received (with Jackie Katounas) the International Prize for Restorative Justice. In 2006, he joined with Major Campbell Roberts of the Salvation Army to launch the Rethinking Crime and Punishment Strategy and the establishment of Justspeak, a non-partisan network of young people speaking up for a new generation of thinkers who want change in the criminal justice system. He was made a Companion of the Queens Service Order in 2007, served a three-year term as Families Commissioner from 2008 to 2011 and was a semi-finalist for the ‘Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Award’ in 2013.

He is currently writing a book, ‘The Criminal Justice System: The State and Maori, from 1985 to the Present,’ following which he plans to complete his memoir, ‘An Imperfect Justice.’ The father of six, grandfather of ten, and great-grandfather of three is also learning to play classical piano, following a lifetime of playing jazz.

Read more about Dr Kim Workman on his website www.kiwa.org.nz

Please read our editorial, ‘Remove the cause, not the symptoms’ in this Section

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Photo Caption:

Dr Kim Workman, who received an Honorary Doctorate at Massey University on May 10.

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