JustSpeak – giving young people a voice to change the criminal justice system

When social justice advocate Kim Workman set up the youth justice organisation JustSpeak in 2011 he thought it would be a sub-committee of its parent organisation, Rethinking Crime and Punishment.

Instead, JustSpeak has become an independent and important voice in the national conversation about the justice system.

“We ended up with a movement,” says Kim, who is a former Todd Foundation funding partner. JustSpeak aims to encourage discussion by young people about the justice system. It publishes reports and makes submissions, focusing on the high Māori imprisonment rate and the growing prison population.

“Listening to young people who don’t normally get a chance to be heard provides an opportunity to think about all the assumptions we’ve made and how we’ve always done things and whether they actually work,” says JustSpeak director Tania Sawicki Mead.

In 2017 JustSpeak published a report on the bail system that sparked discussion among politicians and policymakers. It also joined forces with Mahi Tahi Trust to organise Whiti Te Rā, a two-day hui on transforming criminal justice. The hui was spurred by a Waitangi Tribunal finding that the Department of Corrections has failed Māori by not doing enough to reduce the high rates of Māori reoffending.

“The Waitangi Tribunal had done all this hard work to release the report but there was no obvious avenue to take the findings and talk about how to end what was happening,” says Tania.
About 120 people attended the hui, including politicians, judges, lawyers and staff from the Department of Corrections, as well as people who had spent time in prison.

They developed a call to action focusing on three areas — prevention; rehabilitation and reintegration; and policy and systemic change — and set up a working group to help advance these goals. Planning is now underway for a second Whiti Te Rā in 2018.

Todd Foundation supported JustSpeak with 5 years of funding from our Partnership Fund (now closed) from 2013 to 2018, and capability funding following this.

For more information see www.justspeak.org.nz