there's a lovely piece in the waikato times this weekend about the pilot youth justice programme, te hurihanga. the programme was developed:
in the mid-1990s, when Judge Carolyn Henwood, a Wellington Youth Court judge, kept seeing young men coming before her bench not once or twice, but multiple times... After researching overseas programmes, she developed the seed of the idea that would become Te Hurihanga, focusing on sustaining and nurturing these young men, and the communities surrounding them.
the programme is intensive and expenisve, involving live-in facilities, education, counselling and also support for the whole family. it is the best way to help these young men turn their lives around.
unfortunately the project has had a chequered history, mostly because no suburb in hamilton wanted to have the facility in their neighbourhood. the level of antagonism has been incredibly high and quite sad. the project moved from suburb to suburb, with mayoral candidates and electorate candidates whipping up the fear and hysteria in the quest for votes.
the unit was finally set up in the outskirts of hillcrest, and the opposition by the "hillcrest action group" (hag for short!) has been pretty nasty. i understand and agree with the right of communities to protest. i understand the fears people had of the young men running away from the unit, and therefore possibly being a danger to the neighbourhood. i particularly understand the anger at the politics involved in the decision-making process.
however, i don't think any of that justifies the lengths to which these people went. for example, they distributed pamphlets (cheap A4 photocopies) to mailboxes in the neighbourhood that had patently false information. now hag denies any involvement, but someone from the suburb claimed that the unit would house sexual offenders and violent criminals who could escape to molest children in the neighbourhood. this was totally untrue.
then there were the defacements of public property, with little coloured posters being glued on to lights on the main highways and other places. there were the unauthorised, nasty messages delivered into letterboxes during local body elections against city councillors who were deemed to have supported the project. but the worst were the signs at the foundation laying ceremony. as i went into the te ara hou village, i saw very young children holding signs that read "sod off".
it amazes that the parents of these children didn't think about the lessons they were giving these kids. they were teaching their children to hate, to be aggressive, to ignore the law, and all for a project that will, in the long run, make their communities safer. after all, the young men who enter the programmes are already out in the streets, already involved in burglaries, probably in their neighbourhood. having them in a facility helping to turn their lives around would be much safer than having them in custody for a few months then back on the street to offend again.
i'm proud to have been a member of the te hurihanga support group, from the earliest days of the project moving to hillcrest. this has been a group of committed people in the area making sure the staff of the project know they are supported and welcomed. the staff are truly wonderful, and the research backing the project, which they are happy to share with anyone, is absolutely solid.
it's wonderful that the unit is proving that it can change the lives of these young men. and kudos to the young men as well. it takes a lot of courage to take that first step, to acknowledge that the life you're leading is not going to lead to any place good, and to make a commitment to change. many of them will have come from difficult family situations, which is why the work with the whole family is so important.
i hope that this pilot can now be taken to other cities, hopefully with a lot less antagonism.