I was the closing speaker at the United States – New Zealand 2009 Partnership Forum in Washington DC last month. As a believer in soft power, I talked about the power of language to create frameworks of freedom, freedom based on metaphors around family, creative edge and a higher role for business. I finished up with two observations. The first was on rugby (naturally!*). The second was on youth justice, a subject I feel strongly about and support through TYLA - Turn Your Life Around – which runs programs for at-risk youth in Auckland.
New Zealand and the US bear some resemblance as big-time human lock-ups. The US is world leader in incarceration and New Zealand is in the top quartile. New Zealand is the 125th most populated country in the world out of 258, yet the 57th most incarcerated. This gives new meaning to the cliché “punching above our weight.” I outlined three things New Zealand could offer to the US in this area: learnings about our system of restorative justice (with its emphasis on “repairing the harm”), our Maori-Pakeha experience of biculturalism, and an appreciation of the development of mana, that special Maori concept denoting personal bearing, presence, and character.
The point of this post is a story that came out of this. A few days later Roy Ferguson, New Zealand Ambassador to the United States, sent me an email with a story that underlines a more inclusive approach to accountability. A couple of years ago the organization American Humane gave an award to New Zealand for what they called "New Zealand's gift to humanity." This was for the Family Group Conference System of justice. Roy received the award on behalf of New Zealand along with our Chief Social Worker and the Chief of our Family Court. New Zealand first introduced this system into legislation around 1988 and it is now regularly used when teenagers get into trouble to see whether the extended family can take action rather than use the criminal justice system. It has been adopted by about 20 countries around the world and about 30 or so States in the US. Roy said how moving it was, after the President of American Humane had made a presentation, to have a Chief from the Lakota tribe of North Dakota come up and present Roy’s delegation with blankets. This was to show their gratitude for the fact that introducing family group conferences on to their Reservation had prevented a number of their young people going off to jail. A great example of how sharing ideas can make the world a better place for everyone.
Ps you can read here a paper ”Restorative Justice in New Zealand: A Model for US Criminal Justice”, 2001, written by American (Indiana) prosecutor Donald Schmidd, who came to New Zealand as an Ian Axford Fellow in Public Policy.
*The rugby references in my Washington speech were to:
- Acknowledge the close relationship between DC’s Hyde Leadership Public Charter School and Auckland rugby.
- Preview two movies that will putting rugby on the big screen – “Forever Strong” and “Invictus”, the story of Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, with Matt Damon as Francois Pinnear, directed by Clint Eastwood.
- Pump up the American Eagles’ for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand – our qualification hinges on matches against Uruguay on November 14 and 21.