Lash­lie film es­sen­tial view­ing for our MPs

Otago Daily Times - - OPINION -

ON Mon­day night Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern launched the Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Sum­mit. Soon af­ter the doors to Par­lia­ment’s Ban­quet Hall opened for those at­tend­ing the of­fi­cial open­ing, Civis was en route to the Re­gent Theatre, like many oth­ers, to see Celia, a film about Celia Lash­lie, de­scribed in the 2018 Film Fes­ti­val pro­gramme as ‘‘an im­pas­sioned, charis­matic ad­vo­cate for equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity in New Zealand . . . com­pas­sion­ate, funny, com­bat­ive and blunt’’.

She was cer­tainly that, but much more.

She mar­ried at 19, then, af­ter her mar­riage dis­solved, was the solo mother of two chil­dren, whom she brought up while study­ing at, and grad­u­at­ing from, univer­sity. She be­came a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer, and then New Zealand’s first fe­male prison of­fi­cer in a men’s prison, later man­ag­ing Christchurch Women’s Prison for four years.

She was sacked from her job as tran­si­tion man­ager for the Nel­son Spe­cial­ist Ed­u­ca­tion Ser­vice af­ter a speech about a hy­po­thet­i­cal 5­yearold boy, ‘‘blond, with the most an­gelic face . . . he’s com­ing to prison ... he’s prob­a­bly go­ing to kill some­one on the way’’, but went on to work with, and write about, the Good Man pro­ject, in many boys’ schools, and to pub­lish He’ll be OK (her guide to bring­ing up boys) and Power of Moth­ers.

She died from can­cer two days af­ter film­ing for this doc­u­men­tary be­gan with an in­ter­view at her home, but use was made of pre­vi­ous record­ings, in­clud­ing a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence camp in which she’d taken part, to pro­duce an in­spir­ing por­trayal of some­one of­ten at odds with bu­reau­cracy, but who treated ev­ery­one as worth­while and stood along­side peo­ple in the most ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances.

Not tak­ing over and do­ing every­thing for them, but stand­ing with them, en­cour­ag­ing them to make choices for them­selves and to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions.

She told of see­ing a queue of school­boys out­side their vi­ceprin­ci­pal’s of­fice af­ter morn­ing as­sem­bly. ‘‘Why?’’ she asked. To ring their moth­ers (they’d for­got­ten to take their Mum­made lunch from the kitchen bench and put it into the school bag) so that Mum could bring the lunch in. As she pointed out, strong train­ing in not be­ing re­spon­si­ble for their ac­tions.

She pro­moted a bot­tom­up ap­proach, find­ing out from those in trou­ble what they felt was needed, in con­trast to the stan­dard bu­reau­cratic top­down dic­ta­tor­ship by those with the power and the money.

At the open­ing of the sum­mit, Ms Ardern said: ‘‘If we want to talk about an ef­fec­tive jus­tice sys­tem, we shouldn’t start with a dis­cus­sion about prison but with a dis­cus­sion about New Zealand.’’

Like Celia, she listed some of the shock­ing sta­tis­tics about in­mates of New Zealand pris­ons: high lev­els of men­tal ill health, ad­dic­tion, and il­lit­er­acy, 77% hav­ing been vic­tims of vi­o­lence, and 53% of women and 15% of men hav­ing been sex­u­ally as­saulted.

Ms Ardern also said: ‘‘We all re­alise that pris­ons are a moral and fis­cal fail­ure’’.

That state­ment needs qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Some prison ca­pac­ity is a must, and some of­fend­ers are only safe in prison. And Civis knows some who’ve been helped by prison. But as Celia made plain, New Zealand pris­ons need a much greater fo­cus on ef­fec­tive re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, and the nec­es­sary at­ti­tudes and re­sourc­ing to achieve it. The Gov­ern­ment has an­nounced some moves in that di­rec­tion, but much more will be needed.

Civis left the Re­gent Theatre deeply moved, think­ing that Celia should be seen by all New Zealan­ders: in par­tic­u­lar, all MPs, and all those in­volved in the Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Sum­mit.

Thank you, Amanda Millar (who be­gan work as a jour­nal­ist at

Dunedin’s Evening Star at age 17) for mak­ing the film, those who crowd­funded the ini­tial work on it, and Garry Robert­son (once a Mos­giel boy), who bank­rolled its mak­ing. It shows a hero and her vi­sion.

Cross­party agree­ment on re­form of the jus­tice and wel­fare sys­tems is needed. Re­form util­is­ing Celia’s in­sights would be a fit­ting me­mo­rial for her. Is that too much to hope for?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.