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Summit will help bring crime rates down

Published: 5:00PM Friday April 03, 2009 Source: NZPA

Ideas from a ministerial meeting on tackling the causes of crime will have some short-term gains, but getting violent offending rates down will take five to 10 years, Justice Minister Simon Power says.

More than 100 leaders from non-government organisations and government departments on Friday converged on Parliament to discuss issues around the causes of crime.

The ministerial Drivers of Crime meeting, led by Power and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, heard ideas ranging from parallel justice systems through to tightening up on alcohol laws.

Within the next two weeks participants will be sent out a summary of the ideas put forward.

They will then get one month to talk to their associates and come back with what they think would work best to reduce the crime rate over two-, five- and 10-year periods.

"What you saw today is a first step in quite a long and involved process," Power says.

The Government has concentrated on improving public safety in its first few months, now it wants to look at how to prevent criminal offending, Power says.

"Ultimately we have to measure success by crime rates coming down," he says.

"There are some things I predict that we will be able to do in quite the short-term, but ultimately to drag that crime rate down, particularly violent crime, is going to be mean a much more medium to long-term plan."

Sharples says the wide cross section at the meeting will be able to come up to with ideas that work.

The main theme for him from was putting the emphasis on community based programmes.

The Green Party idea of a parallel justice system aimed at Maori, but available to everyone, was given short shrift by Power.

"That is not Government policy...New Zealanders need to be reassured they are all working to the same set of laws."

Power say it is possible to "intertwine" programmes that may work for Maori within parts of the justice system such as specialist prison rehabilitation units and the Youth Court working in marae.

`But we are not running two parallel justice systems."

Sharples says parts of the parallel justice system are in Maori Party policy, "but that is a debate for another day".

Both men addressed a packed Legislative Council Chamber before attendees broke into groups to conduct further discussions.

Power says while some would dismiss the meeting as a "talk-fest of do-gooders", there is a need to get a consensus about the causes of crime from people who care about the justice system.

Sharples says statistics show Maori were apprehended, convicted and jailed out of proportion to other ethnicities, and that questions need to be asked as to why New Zealand society appeared to have become more violent.

He questionswhether alcohol and drug abuse have been normalised and whether New Zealanders are becoming immune to violence and extreme criminal behaviour.