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Correspondent Friday, 25 October, 2002, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
Maori Justice: Keisha's Story
Street fighters
New Zealand has seen an upsurge of violent crime
Sarah Macdonald

New Zealand's criminal justice system is in crisis. Statistics show 86% of those released from prison re-offend within five years. Sarah Macdonald witnesses a traditional Maori "restorative" justice scheme being introduced to reverse the trend.

New Zealand is tackling an upsurge in violent crime by increasingly young offenders.

The prisons are full and re-offending is at an all time high.

The crisis has prompted a desperate search for an alternative approach.

New Zealand hopes the answer will lie with the Maori system of "restorative justice".

This system requires offenders to show remorse and pay reparation for the continued harmony of the tribe.

Keisha Dais
Teenage offender Keisha Dais remains unrepentant
Fifteen-year-old Keisha Dais was charged with assault after punching a younger girl to the ground, and viciously kicking her in the back and head.

She would have faced a prison sentence of one year.

But instead she has been steered away from the courts by the police.

She was handed over to a community restorative justice scheme where she will have to face her victim and their family.

Changing attitudes

This scheme can only work if the local police are committed.

John Samuella
John Samuella believes in the power of talking
John Samuella, in charge of the youth section at Feilding Police Station, now sends 90% of his young offenders through restorative justice.

"The big difference is that we are almost looking after kids better by diverting them away from the courts but still making them accountable.

"In Keisha's case, it will probably take time to get rid of her attitude.

"Deep down inside she doesn't want to be a kid at all. But before you can get rid of her attitude, you have to really get to the heart of the matter, really talk to her about what happened."

Kylie Clark
The attack has left Kylie afraid
Keisha's victim, 13-year-old Kylie Clark was asked to attend the restorative justice meeting to describe her feelings about the attack and suggest ideas for Keisha's punishment.

In the event she could not face the youth board meeting and sat outside in the car.

Memories of the trauma she had suffered were too powerful.

"I spat out a lot of blood and my front lips were all swollen and black and cut. All around my cheek bones on each side and around up there were all swollen and black," she said.

"Keisha has quite a record. She swears at the teachers, smarts off to them."

But her mother Stephanie and father Dan turned up to offer her side of the story.

During the meeting in front of a board of trained restorative justice facilitators, Stephanie was able to tell Keisha what affect the attack on her daughter had on the entire family.

Mother's anguish

"Keisha, what you did to my daughter blew me away."

She said she had made it her utmost priority to protect her daughter for 13 years.

The Maori Justice panel
The informal "courtroom" belies the tough justice
"I never thought something like this would break my protection of her."

Keisha was asked to formally apologise in writing to Kylie. She was unwilling, but was required to do it.

The facilitators also sentenced her to 50 hours community service.

Throughout this sentence, she will be mentored in an attempt to keep her on the straight and narrow.

Whether they can actually break through Keisha's hard reserve remains to be seen.

She has said she would have preferred a criminal record because saying sorry has been the hardest sentence of all.

Maori Justice: Keisha's Story: Sunday 27 October 2002 on BBC Two at 1915 BST

Reporter: Sarah Macdonald
Editor: Karen O'Connor
Deputy Editor: David Belton
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

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Keisha and Kylie
A difference of opinion
Keisha Dais
Called to account
Keisha Dais
"I grabbed her hair and threw her on the ground"
Kylie Clark
"I just spat out a load of blood"
Stephanie Clark
"What you did to my daughter .... blew me away"
Maori justice in action
The letter was the hardest part of all
Maori Justice

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