Passion drives change

Passionate individuals have brought about change in youth justice regimes in New Zealand and South Africa, but sustaining progress over time is hard work.

Public policy PhD candidate Ashley Shearar compared the development of ground-breaking approaches to youth offending in New Zealand in the 1980s with more recent youth justice transformation in her home country of South Africa.

Her results show that policy change in both countries was driven by passionate individuals who became social entrepreneurs.

“Those driving change in South Africa had first-hand experience of young people being detained without trial or held in inappropriate conditions under the apartheid regime. In New Zealand, key individuals were motivated by concern over how Māori in particular fared in the welfare and justice systems.”

Ashley also found parallels between the nations in the degree to which advocates of new youth justice approaches wanted community-based solutions, which reflect restorative justice principles.

But “when the rubber hits the road,” says Ashley, it proves difficult to keep enthusiasm alive for approaches that are more inclusive and time consuming.

“People in both countries felt the dream had fizzled as they became bogged down in day-to-day demands and had to compete for funding.”

Ashley says New Zealand was a source of inspiration when she became involved in the South African youth justice transformation movement.

“As well as the overall policy approach, the sensitivity to indigenous people in what New Zealand had done, and the focus on family and community, resonated strongly.”

Ashley worked full time during three years of PhD study—initially as a probation officer in Hawke’s Bay, then in the Department of Corrections’ high-risk response team and, since September 2012, as a senior analyst in the Ministry of Social Development’s youth justice policy team.

Currently, Ashley is helping to develop a New Zealand Youth Crime Action Plan, providing an opportunity for her research findings to inform policy advice.