Low-level offenders to appear before panel

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    New Zealand Police officers meet with members of the Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust last month; Invercargill Police Kaitakawaenga Iwi Liaison Officer Simon Kairau (left), Nga Kete's specialist facili tation services manager Natasha Barrett and Iwi Community Panels coordinator Mana Wright with Southland Area Com mander Inspector Joel Lamb. Photo: Supplied

    THE Nga Kete Matauranga Pounamu Charitable Trust is launching an Iwi Community Panel (ICP) in collaboration with New Zealand Police and local iwi.

    Nga Kete chief executive Tracey Wright-Tawha said the new service was aimed at steering whanau away from entering a criminal conviction pathway and seeking alternative resolutions for low-level offenders.

    Low-level offences included crimes such as common assault, driving while forbidden and thefts under $500, she said.

    Police could refer offenders to the ICP if they were aged 17 years or over, if the offence carried a sentence of six months’ imprisonment or less and the participant admitted guilt, she said.

    “We are aiming to provide an alternative resolution platform where offenders need to face their community to make things right, and agree to a level of reparation.”

    ICPs target offences which can be resolved without charge and prosecution but where a pre-charge warning is not considered a sufficient response.

    The offender would appear before a panel made up of trained volunteers and an independent observer take notes and records the process, she said. If there was a victim, they were also given the opportunity to attend.

    But Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar said anything which might make a difference was worth trying.

    “If it’s aimed at low-level offending, it absolutely has our blessing. We’re all about accountability and consequences.”

    Panel members will be recruited based on their experience with restorative justice, community engagement or social work, facilitation skills and knowledge of tikanga Maori (Maori culture and custom).

    The panels decide the level of reparation, which could mean community work or a fine for the offender.

    Ms Wright-Tawha said the panels had been successful in other parts of the country.

    A 2012 Police evaluation of the Christchurch Community Justice Panel found the method was an effective alternative to the criminal justice system, with indications reoffending was reduced and restitution orders were almost always followed.

    Southern District Maori responsiveness manager for the Southern District Police Inspector Damion Rangitutia said while there was still a way to go in the design, development and implementation stages of the project, police were working closely with Nga Kete to ensure the expectations from all stake holders involved were managed.

    “I am excited about the opportunity this initiative presents, given the positive outcomes experienced by similar panels over the country.”

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