Bill called a simplistic response to complex problem

The Wellington archdiocese’s Ecology, Justice and Peace Commission has vehemently opposed a bill seeking to amend the Oranga Tamariki Act to “give structure to the current system”.

Lisa Beech, ecology, justice and peace advisor for the Archdiocese of Wellington, described the proposed amendment, which calls for a demerit point system, “a simplistic response to a complex problem”.

“Our main objection to the bill is that, for many young people, the proposal would reduce all the complex situations of young offenders to a simplistic numbering system which only considers a police officer’s assessment of the crime,” Ms Beech said.

The commission prefaced its submission with a quote from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation to the youth and the world, Christus Vivit (Christ lives!).

In the exhortation, the Pope said, “youth is not something to be analysed in the abstract. Indeed, ‘youth’ does not exist: there exist only young people, each with the reality of his or her own life”.

Ms Beech said this bill excludes the young person in the process.

“It is fundamentally in conflict with the key principles of the Oranga Tamariki Act in failing to involve whānau, social workers and others in the community.

“If adopted, it would also remove the voice of victims in the process. For us, this is one indication, among many, that the scheme is punitive rather than restorative,” she said.

Ms Beech further explained that the proposed bill gives the responsibility for the assessment and allocation of demerits to the enforcement officer alone, noting that this would require additional training for police “who are not social workers or psychologists”.

“The bill proposes allocation of demerit points without judicial oversight, and does not provide for legal advice and support for young people. “Numerous reports by both government and non-government . . . show poorer outcomes for Māori and Pasifika offenders in these circumstances,” she said, citing the Ministry of Justice’s 2007 report Identifying and Responding to Bias in the Criminal Justice System and JustSpeak’s 2020 research A Justice System for Everyone.

“In some cases, disproportionate outcomes may result from conscious racism, but often they result from unconscious bias.

“Our submission says that, in considering creating another level of discretionary assessment by police, the select committee must consult with Māori and seriously examine how it will address racism and unconscious bias in the application of the proposal.”

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