Speak Out

Conversations change the world.

We think so. The public thinks so too – research demonstrates that persuasive, values-based conversations are a powerful tool in changing minds.

Tough on crime politics are promoted widely in Aotearoa and are perceived to have widespread support. To change this perception, we need to start talking about it wherever we can, whenever we can: at home, at the gym, on social media, and wherever it comes up. We know that a better, more effective justice system is possible. We know we need it. It’s time others know, too.

Let’s make the time to have these conversations – they’ll have a real impact on our communities.

Having justice conversations

Nervous? Here’s some pointers that may help.

  • Know what’s up. Do you know how you feel or what to say? Get familiar with the topic – we have plenty of resources below to help.
  • Take it easy. There’s no need to force it. The best conversations come out of activity – a quiet moment at a party, between matches, in the car. If you see an opportunity and feel prepared, take your chance.
  • Listen up. Your friends, colleagues and whānau have thought about these things too. They likely have worries, observations, and conclusions of their own. The more you understand where they’re coming from, the better you can build on it.
  • Pick your battles. There are some people you won’t convince, or need to disengage from. Save your energy for the conversations where you’ll learn from each other and find common ground.

Conversation structure

  • Have a vision. We’re all here because we believe better things are possible. That’s something that inspires us to push forward with change. The people you’re talking to likely know our system is broken, on some level – catch their attention with ideas for something better.
  • Appeal to shared values. We believe in justice reform for many different reasons. Perhaps you think it’s the most pragmatic solution, since our current system isn’t working. Perhaps you think people deserve better conditions, or that we’re missing out on the best Aotearoa can be, by wasting human potential. The people you’re speaking to have important values, and you likely know about at least some of them.
    • Pick those values wisely. It might be best to avoid subjects that get dicey and technical, like money or national security. Most people you’ll talk to believe in protecting youth from harm, in common sense solutions, in abandoning ideas that have been proven not to work. Most people want better, safer, more unified communities. You may not draw the same conclusions from those starting points, but you can offer a different perspective.
  • Name the people who can change things. Ultimately, a lot of conversations about our broken justice system end in head-shaking and helplessness. But our Government is responsible. They have created our current conditions, and they can fix them.
  • Take action. Not all conversations end with something to do. But they might! Perhaps your friend would like to have some conversations of their own, or write to their MP. Perhaps they’d like to check our website out and see what catches their eye.

Talking points

You alone know what’s best for the conversation you’re having, but here’s some examples of values and metaphors combining to make a complete argument. For more of these, check out The Workshop’s guide to talking about crime and justice (p44 onward).

This isn’t working.

The maze metaphor
  • I think managing New Zealand’s justice system more responsibly can improve the wellbeing of all our communities.
  • We know that our current justice system puts too many people from communities that lack opportunities on a path that goes straight to prison and has no way out. It is a maze without exits.
  • Some people in politics want to keep the current justice system in place, even though it is designed with too few paths for people to get out of the maze. The current system simply doesn’t work.
  • If we take a responsible approach to solving our communities’ problems, we can prevent harm, decrease crime and stop people getting trapped in the system.
  • The government needs to build more paths out of the maze. It needs to identify and fund practical ways out, such as mental health services, drug treatment services, and restorative justice.
End racism, realise justice
  • Managing New Zealand’s justice system more responsibly can improve people’s lives.
  • Instead of solving problems caused by poverty and inequality, our current justice system chooses to lock people up. This hurts all of us, especially Māori.
  • The police are more likely to pick up young Māori than young Pākehā for the same minor crimes. While more Pākehā are charged with violent crimes, dishonesty, property and traffic crimes, more Māori are convicted of them.
  • If we take a responsible approach to solving our communities’ problems, and address higher rates of apprehension and imprisonment for Māori, we can improve all our lives.
  • We need the Government to identify and fund practical solutions to ensure all communities in New Zealand have resources and opportunities they need. The Government should work with Māori to make our justice system work for everyone.

It’s the right thing to do.

Rethinking justice
  • I think we should reduce our reliance on prisons. We need to stop funnelling people into a justice system that creates more problems than it solves.
  • We know that children from communities with a lack of resources, and children who have been in state care, are more likely to be swept into our prisons as adults. Too much of our justice system targets people who have grown up in poverty. The result is a system that creates injustices, by discriminating against people based on how they grew up, their income, or what they look like.
  • Instead of punishing people who are already suffering, we should be doing everything we can to support them. We need to support people who are doing it tough. We need to stop using prisons to punish people who have been denied the opportunities and resources they need to thrive.
Righting the wrongs of criminalisation
  • We all want to live in a fair and just society.
  • But under tough on crime policies, some people are unfairly discriminated against, including young people and Māori. As a result, the Police are more likely to pick up young Māori people than young European New Zealanders for the same minor crimes, like vandalism. And while more European New Zealanders are charged with violent crimes, dishonesty, property and traffic crimes, more Māori people are convicted of these crimes.
  • Restorative and transformative justice policies will mean fewer young people, and fewer Māori, coming into contact with the criminal justice system. That means fewer trapped in endless cycles of re-conviction.
  • The Government being pressured to implement restorative and transformative justice policies will mean improvements in health, justice, and economic development, especially for young people and Māori.

It’s what we need.

Replacing our dead-end system
  • I think modernising New Zealand’s justice system is key to making progress as a society.
  • Our outdated criminal justice system is based on Victorian ideas of retribution. It’s holding our country back. 
  • We need to build pathways through our justice system that lead people to better outcomes. For example, we should properly resource communities, create education pathways that suit all learners, build comprehensive mental health services, drug treatment services, and use proven alternatives to prison.

It’s what we’re capable of.

The rip tide metaphor
  • I think changing New Zealand’s justice system will help make sure all people can reach their potential and be active members of our communities.
  • We know that children and young people from communities with high unemployment, low school achievement and a lack of other resources are more likely to be swept into our justice system and end up in prison.
  • Some people in politics want to keep that outdated system in place. This is despite the fact that prisons sweep people into a powerful stream of crime that’s hard to escape.
  • We need to keep people out of this current in the first place and guide them to safer, more stable shores. This means the Government should adequately resource and support communities so people are not pulled into the justice system.

Further resources

Here’s some more resources about talking about crime and justice, one-on-one and publicly: