What we were and what we could be: Restorative Justice and its impact on Māori

Project commenced:

We have identified a set of questions relating to Māori restorative justice in the Aotearoa Justice system and its effectiveness for Māori:

What are the barriers Māori face when they participate in restorative justice as it stands?
What can we learn from the traditional ways of resolving conflict that could minimise these barriers?

The over-representation of Māori offending, re-offending and victimisation shows the failure of the current justice system’s interventions to keep our communities safe, address the harms caused by injustice, and effectively rehabilitate those who have done harm through their offending. These effects fall disproportionately on Māori and their whānau. Despite state designed interventions like restorative justice that are designed to be more culturally appropriate, Māori offending, re-offending and victimisation rates are still alarmingly high. There is little to no evidence showing that these processes - with a culturally sensitive intention - effectively produce positive outcomes for Māori. We will investigate restorative justice in the Aotearoa justice system and its effectiveness for Māori. We will identify barriers and opportunities for developing a more effective justice system for all. We anticipate that the findings of this seeding project will inform a larger, related future project.

Utilising Kaupapa Māori theory, we will undertake a literature review to describe the current state of restorative justice within Aotearoa’s justice system. We will then undertake a qualitative thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews gathered from 5 – 8 informants with experience related to restorative justice, including Māori lawyers, restorative justice trainers, managers, academics and kaumātua. Our research is designed to identify the barriers Māori face when they participate in restorative justice. Our novel project will also investigate how traditional. Māori ways of resolving conflict could enable us to develop a justice system more effective for society as a whole.

Mr Danny Poa, for the last 4 years, had facilitated restorative justice conferences and coordinated restorative justice cases out of Wellington, Hutt Valley and Porirua courts as a member of the restorative justice team and services to Māori team at Community Law Wellington/Hutt Valley. Danny has seen its impact first hand, on friends and whānau going through restorative justice, as both those harmed and who have inflicted harm. Being surrounded by restorative justice in theory and practice, Danny has developed a research interest in restorative justice. In particular, to shed light on its potential for success for Māori facilitators and participants.

Our aim for this study is to gain a greater understanding of restorative justice and it’s effectiveness for Māori, and draw on the knowledge of Māori restorative justice facilitators, academics and commentators and holders of traditional knowledge to improve the justice system and make it truly restorative for Māori. First, we will investigate the barriers Māori face when they participate in restorative justice and whether these barriers can be reduced or eliminated in this current justice system. Our second area of study will be to explore the aspirations our participants and informants have for a justice system that is truly restorative for Māori using their expert knowledge of the past and present.

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