In March 2014, Counties Manukau District (CMD) Police, Serco MECF and Vodafone partnered to pilot a new programme called Kotahitanga, an initiative that targets Maori remand prisoners and supports them on their journey towards living a crime-free life, therefore creating safer healthier communities.
The Kotahitanga programme came to life through a confluence of three concurrent strategies: a Maori crime and crash reduction strategy by New Zealand Police called ‘Turning of the Tide’; Serco’s reducing re-offending; and Vodafone’s corporate social responsibility commitment. These initiatives allowed programme leads to come together and think creatively about the over-representation of Maori in the justice sector and how to improve outcomes and prevention, culminating in this collaborative public, private partnership.
The programme is specifically designed to target remand prisoners. It is voluntary and adopts a mentoring approach to reintegration, whereby remand prisoners are assigned a Kaimanaaki (Police Officer) for an initial period of 12 months. The aim is to develop a meaningful mentoring relationship whereby the participant is supported to strengthen their wellbeing by achieving goals, such as employment.
Many of the things we take for granted in our day-to- day lives can be extraordinarily dif cult for offenders if not properly supported after returning to the community. For example, a large percentage of remand prisoners have driving charges associated with their offending, which makes it difficult (or impossible) to get a driving license after release. Lacking a license limits employment prospects and interview opportunities, and adds an extra layer of difficulty in simply returning to the familiar errands and elements of a normal life post-incarceration.
Kotahitanga helps get them ‘onto the ladder’ so to speak, starting them on the course to regaining their license, driving privileges and a sense of normalcy. There have been 164 CMD participants since programme’s inception, and numbers are growing. The Auckland City policing district is now mentoring 24 prisoners, and Waitemata North Shore district have recently implemented the programme as well.
The complexities associated with this population mean there are many barriers for prisoners accessing reintegration support. An evidence-informed selection formula was developed to identify and then target those likely to ‘fall through the net’ once returned to society outside of prison.
The Value of Innovative Public/Private Partnerships
“E kore te patiki e hoki ki tona puehu.” The flounder doesn’t return to the murky waters from which it created.
This Maori proverb reflects the spirit of the Kotahitanga programme, with respect not only to the participant’s desire to leave behind offending behaviour, but paralleling the changing face of the justice and social sectors.
Within Counties Manukau District, Maori comprise 37 per cent of all victims, 41 per cent of all offenders, and nationally make up 52 per cent of the prison population, with a significant proportion of gang membership.
In designing Kotahitanga, programme leads knew that in order for it to have the best chance of reducing re-offending it was vital that the programme employ culturally responsive practice. Kotahitanga utilised Serco’s expertise to create specialised engagement and practice tools using the Te Whare Tapa Wha model (Durie 1982) at the core. This strength-based approach embraces whanau and community engagement to encourage positive change in the participants.
The New Zealand Police national operating strategy of ‘Prevention First’ was the enabler to dedicate 96 Counties Manukau Constables (Kaimanaaki) for mentoring roles across a single calendar year, in particular from the Neighbourhood Policing Teams.
Research shows the important role community plays toward successful reintegration. Sadly, in reality it has been all too common for prisoners to feel shunned by the community on release, marginalising them further. Vodafone provides sponsorship in the form of mobile phones, which helps ex-prisoners re-establish themselves in the community, for example finding somewhere to live and work. It also allows participants to reach their Kaimanaaki at any time for any reason.
Our future expansion plans for Kotahitanga include possible development of a social media platform. Social media has the bene t of instantly engaging youth but is an area of only recent consideration within the justice and social service sectors. The Kotahitanga vision
is to use smartphones as a platform for multimedia reintegration support through greater connectivity with providers and community groups, whereby invitations and positive messaging can be easily distributed and calls for service (referrals) can be self-initiated.
Kotahitanga has achieved a true partnership approach, which is a fundamental reason for its success.
Building Cultural Capacity
Kotahitanga programme leads have developed training tools to support the use of culturally responsive engagement practices across all constabulary, believing that anyone using this approach can develop a meaningful relationship with Maori.
A full-day learning and development training package has been delivered approximately 200 Police staff across the wider Auckland districts.
A demonstration of Kotahitanga’s approach was the participants’ graduation ceremony in December 2015 at the Manukau Police station, where invited guests included Kaimanaaki, whanau and friends.
This powerful and happy occasion was significant to improve relationships and continue to change personal narratives through public acknowledgment. We believe this is the start of making inroads to affect intergenerational change through participant role modelling in view of children and whanau.
The Kotahitanga template and practice framework can be replicated across any district with a remand populace. Auckland City is an example whereby a similar Pasifika remand population necessitated inclusion alongside Maori. A Pasifika model was adopted to cater to cultural dynamics and expectations. Additionally, this led to the development of an alternative selection criteria for Pasifika.
“…It was the best feeling ever, that I’ve actually achieved something. It was well worth it. Holding that certificate, framed up actually, yeah it kind of made me feel good inside, ‘cause I made the change with the help of Kotahitanga and all that, but all up most I’m proud of is what I’ve achieved, proud of what I’ve done…” — Leo (Kotahitanga participant)
Is it working? Are there fewer victims?
Kotahitanga places the victims at the centre of our concern, and the participants at the centre of our efforts. It is promising therefore that these initial indications estimate a reduction in victimisation of 25-30 per cent achieved in one year against comparable remand release norms.
As a reintegration programme which specifically targets the remand population, Kotahitanga is rare not only in NZ but in the world. Discussions with Waikato University are underway surrounding a full evaluation of Kotahitanga. On reviewing the programme framework, the Lead Researcher provided the following quote:
“Kotahitanga is unique insofar as it was conceived from a basis of traditional Maori understandings of care, change and support, is driven by Maori stakeholders, and for the benefit of Maori communities from the earliest contacts with the correctional system.”
— Dr. Armon Tamatea, School of Psychology, Waikato University
Using a tool to obtain quantitative data, the interim findings from the first year of operation indicate those on the Kotahitanga programme on average stayed out of custody 30 days longer than a comparative group.
As there is a cost of approximately $300 per day to hold a person in custody, this presents a significant savings to the Department of Corrections across 96 participants, amounting to approximately $1 million in its first year of operation.
Kotahitanga is about partnerships, walking side by side to create healthier and safer communities.
…I feel much better now, more open, more bright. I’m loving my life now. I get to see my kids on a regular basis. I’m thinking more positive and am hoping to change a whole bunch of other offenders now to come and steer our ways for this project, because it will help us big time, but all we ask is to be treated equally… — Leo