Reconsidering punishment

19:04, Oct 01 2012
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Kim Workman

Kim Workman is a man of firsts in crime and punishment.

The retired public servant and active social entrepreneur has taken on the issues of criminal justice and prison reform.

He has had a guiding hand in establishing the first kaupapa Maori-based prison units in the country, and also the first faith- based prison unit in the British Commonwealth.

Workman has also created strategies for how communities can better support prisoners and their families, and has introduced many innovations in the field of restorative justice. As a public advocate for reform, he has encouraged many New Zealanders to completely rethink their attitudes towards crime and punishment.

Workman's career in the public sector has included senior roles with the police, the Office of the Ombudsman, the State Services Commission, the Department of Service from 1989 till 1993.

In those roles he was faced with some truths: "The prison system is not making a big enough difference to the level of re- offending. Once I became much more aware of this, it started in me a search for something that might work better."


In searching for the causes of the failures he was seeing in the criminal justice system, Workman could easily point to the "usual suspects" - inadequate and ineffective rehabilitation programmes, a lack of drug treatment, and insufficient funding for prisoner reintegration.

But Workman was also beginning to understand something far more fundamental - at the heart of the problems in criminal justice is a failure to appreciate the actual connections that exist between victims, criminals and society.

"The classic mistake of conventional justice is to punish criminals as if they will never come back from prison to live among us," he says.

"But with rare exceptions, they all come back. And when they do, we depend on them not to cause more harm in the community. We are all interdependent in a shrinking world: criminals, victims, and the wider society. The high rates of reconviction suggest to me that we just haven't been doing what is needed to support that interdependence."

Workman's search for "something that might work better" led him to get more involved with the Prison Fellowship.

After several years serving on the Prison Fellowship Board, Kim Workman took over as its national director in 2001. He immediately started to introduce a series of innovations aimed at building a deeper connection between offenders and their communities.

"All of the programmes I have been working on are part of a larger social justice agenda. The aim is to promote a fair and open justice system, by changing the way New Zealanders think and act about prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration, and crime and punishment," he says.

"Each project introduces a new way of thinking about working with prisoners and their families - whether it is in the role of culture, the role of spiritual transformation, the practice of restorative justice, or the creation of social capital.

"Each innovation is highly relational in its approach, and is based on an understanding of the importance of creating stronger social links between prisoners and offenders, their families, and their community."

At the heart of the Prison Fellowship ministry are the hundreds of church volunteers who regularly visit prisoners, provide pastoral care, and assist prison chaplains by holding worship services and taking Bible study. Many of these volunteers also help out with art, culture, sporting, life skills and other educational activities within the prisons.

Workman started to encourage and resource many more volunteers in the prison system by establishing a national system of volunteer training. His goal was to get as many "normal" people involved in prison life as possible.

"As more communities get actively involved in the prisons, they become as much like the real world as possible. And when prisoners feel accepted and involved as part of a community, it is a powerful incentive to change."

The volunteers are also the foundation of the Prison Fellowship's community-based approach to prisoner reintegration. Workman points out that of the 9000 prisoners being released from prison every year, very few are returning to a stable home and job.

Instead, most just resume where they left off before they went to jail. Many leave prison determined to change their lives, but do not have the support needed to make it happen.

"The Department of Corrections has yet to develop a comprehensive prisoner reintegration strategy, or a coherent theory to inform it. Its approach to reintegration effectively stops at the prison gate.

"Unless the person has a support group around them - people to talk to when things inevitably get tough - then the odds are stacked against them, however determined they may be to change."

Workman is of Ngati Kahungunu and Rangitaane descent, and when he was the head of the Prison Service he advocated for the establishment of Kaupapa Maori prison unit.

These drew heavily from kaupapa Maori, or Maori cultural values, and were closely connected to the guidance and support of Maori communities.

When Workman joined the Prison Fellowship, he started to take more of an interest in what could be achieved with establishing a prison unit based on Christian values, with similar active support from church communities.

With his connections in the international network of Prison Fellowships, Workman was able to investigate faith-based prison units that were operating in Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina and the United States. The focus of these faith-based units was on the prisoners developing a new sense of meaning and values in their lives, and most importantly, connecting to wider social and community support.

The 60-bed, faith-based prison unit, called He Korowai Whakapono ("Cloak of Faith"), was opened in 2003 at Rimutaka Prison, near Upper Hutt.

Prisoners who are serving their last two years of a sentence can volunteer for an 18-month spiritual transformation programme. This is a "strengths- based" approach, which calls on the prisoners to demonstrate their value and potential, and make a positive commitment back to their communities.

They are motivated to address directly the behaviour - the violence, drug and alcohol abuse and other destructive activities - which triggered their offending.

Eight months before their release, the prisoners are matched with a mentor who will help prepare them for their re-entry into the community, and continue to support them for up to two years. Local churches also undertake to provide support to the prisoner and their families, assisting them with housing, employment and other local connections

"The results so far have been very encouraging. The prisoners in our unit have been tested drug free for three years in a prison where about 18 per cent of all prisoners test positive. There is a clear reduction in incidents of violence and drug abuse happening within the unit," Workman says.

Underpinning the faith-based unit, and much of the other activities of the Prison Fellowship, is the concept of restorative justice. This is an approach to addressing crime that focuses on the deeper needs of victims and offenders, rather than just focusing on the reactive need that communities have for protection and punishment.

Workman recalls his first experience with restorative justice, which he observed when he was the district manager of the Department of Maori Affairs in Rotorua.

The police in a local community were dealing with a case of a Maori man who had committed incest against his daughter. A senior Maori elder asked if the community could deal with the problem in accordance with Maori custom, and this was agreed.

The local elders called a meeting at the marae. This was attended by about 40 people including the suspect and his family, and their extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. At the meeting, the elders repeated the police allegations and the suspect immediately admitted his guilt. He was then given the opportunity to explain why he had committed the offence, and was questioned about whether he fully understood the harm he had caused.

Following his confession, each member of the family was given the opportunity to speak. The 15-year old victim spoke of her own confused feelings - of feeling worthless, but also talking of her love for her father, and the fear that he might do the same to her younger sister, aged 13 years.

The mother and younger sister also spoke of their mixed feelings of fear and love. The offender expressed remorse for his behaviour, and sought the forgiveness of his wife and children. The meeting continued with other family members speaking directly to the offender, venting their anger and making clear the shame that he had brought on the wider family.

The next day, the elders discussed how the matter should be dealt with. They decided that the offender would firstly lose his eldership and speaking rights at the marae. He was also forbidden to be at the marae when young people visited. It was agreed that he would no longer sleep in the family home, but in a shed at the back of the house, and only enter the house during the day when his children were at school. These sanctions would continue until his youngest daughter had left home.

The offender accepted these decisions, and there was reconciliation with his family, in the presence of the wider community.

The man went on to faithfully observe the conditions set by the elders for the next three years, until his youngest daughter left home. After this, a ceremony was held at the marae accepting the offender back into the community and reinstating his speaking rights. He subsequently resumed a normal life with his wife, and was thereafter treated as a law-abiding and responsible member of the community.

As Workman's first exposure to an indigenous restorative justice process, it made a lasting impression. "It seemed to me that the primary benefit of this encounter was that it brought a state of peace-building in the community through dialogue, offender accountability, and addressing the victim's safety and needs. The penalty was quite severe, and yet at the end of the process, there was provision for reconciliation and full community restoration," Workman says.

"The ideas behind these practices are founded not in criminological texts, but in Judeo- Christian and indigenous principles that have been around for at least a couple of thousand years. "Restorative practice is founded on a human truth - that we all seek to be reconciled with our family or whanau, our community and with one another. We all desire to belong." Edited from How Communities Heal - Stories of social innovation and social change by vivian Hutchinson and the New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship.


1. "We incarcerate people and see 70 per cent of them re-offend within two years. We see their character and personality permanently damaged by the experience, regardless of whether they offend again or not," Workman says.

2. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world. At around 197 prisoners per 100,000 people, the New Zealand incarceration rate is almost twice that of most continental Western European countries and is fast approaching that of Libya, Azerbaijan and Brazil.

3. Many of the people who are in the criminal justice system are victims themselves, and would more sensibly be treated outside prison walls for their mental health or drug and alcohol problems, or for minor but persistent antisocial behaviour.

4. Keeping one inmate behind bars for a year currently costs taxpayers around $90,000 a year. This money is saved if the former prisoner does not re-offend. And research shows that keeping offenders out of prison means that their children are also seven times less likely to end up there.

Taranaki Daily News