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Q&A with NZ Harkness Fellow: her reflections on her time in the United States and with the National Institute of Corrections
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Aphra Green is this year’s New Zealand Harkness Fellow. She has been in the US since February, looking at the key success factors for implementing evidence-based decision-making, with a focus on the pretrial decision point. New Zealand has recently established a similar program of work: Social Investment in the Criminal Justice System. During her three months at the National Institute of Corrections, Aphra worked closely with Lori Eville on her pretrial and Evidence-based Decision Making (EBDM) projects.

Tell me about your background, and what led you to criminal justice policy?Aphra Green

I have a law degree – a Masters of Law in fact. I started my career in government, working in a policy role at the Ministry of Health. I then had a short stint in private legal practice, before completing a research fellowship with Otago University’s Human Genome Research Project. Having been lucky enough to experience these three sectors early in my career, I made a deliberate choice to return to the public sector and pursue a career in public sector leadership. This led me to a policy role at the Ministry of Justice, where I was part of the criminal law team, which was undertaking significant criminal justice reforms. I eventually became the manager of that team, and it assumed responsibility for international criminal law policy. I am now in a strategic policy role as the GM Sector Strategy within the Sector Group, which supports the agencies in the NZ justice system (Ministry of Justice, Department of Corrections, Police, Serious Fraud Office and Crown Law) to collaborate to reduce crime and enhance public safety, and to provide access to justice by delivering modern, effective and affordable justice services. Criminal justice policy is a natural fit with my legal background – it’s an exciting and dynamic area, and one in which there is still so much possibility.

What are some of the commonalities and differences between the US and NZ criminal justice systems you’ve observed in your time here?

The legal systems of both the US and NZ have their origins in English Common Law. We both operate an adversarial (as opposed to inquisitorial) system. However, despite their common origins, there are now significant differences between the two systems. Some of this is reflected in the different terminology we use – even little things like the jail/prison distinction (which NZ doesn’t have) caused me some confusion early in my time here! Of course the US is made up of many small criminal justice systems, whereas in NZ, there is a single system that operates for the whole country. In this way, NZ is much more comparable to a state in the US. I think it’s also fair to say that criminal justice systems in both countries have gone through a similar political cycle, where “tough on crime” rhetoric has driven policy and legislation – and ultimately drove growth in the incarceration rate in both countries. Both NZ and the US are also facing the challenge of significant over-representation of minority populations in criminal justice statistics.

What surprised you the most about the US?

The US is a country of many contrasts. Despite the challenges facing the criminal justice system, there are so many people and organizations trying to change it, and so much innovation happening. It was the breadth and depth of innovation happening in criminal justice that most surprised me, and have made it a fascinating time to be here. It seems that the US criminal justice system is in the midst of significant reform – and that the need for reform has hit the popular consciousness – and has even been a subject for debate during the Primaries. It’s been fascinating to observe all of this activity.

What have been the highlights for you during your time at the NIC?

Really the biggest highlight was meeting all of these interesting and passionate people – and being able to work with them every day! I’m particularly grateful to Lori Eville and the management at the NIC for hosting me, and to the NIC’s partners on the Evidence-Based Decision-Making Program the Center for Effective Public Policy and The Carey Group for sharing their knowledge on EBDM and making me feel like part of the team. The staff at NIC are so experienced and knowledgeable, and I’ve learned so much during my time here. The Orientation for Pretrial Executives training I attended in Colorado was particularly enlightening and valuable.

As for a personal highlight, being able to be based in Washington, DC meant that I could really get to know the city – and being here during Cherry Blossom was such a treat. My kids (2 and 5) have loved all the museums and things to do.

Did you meet your goals for your Fellowship?

Absolutely! My initial research topic proposed to investigate how the US is disseminating evidence to criminal justice decision-makers, to inform NZ’s own program of work. I think I expected to focus more on the tools for dissemination – websites, decision-making tools, research summaries, etc. But what I really learnt was that you can have all the tools in the world, but these mean very little unless the receiving environment is ready to make decisions that are based on evidence.

Beyond all of that, just being exposed to different ways of thinking and doing things, as well as meeting a number of criminal justice experts along the way, has been fantastic.

How do you plan on using what you learned when you return to NZ?

I’ll be reporting back to the senior leaders in NZ justice agencies on my findings here. Some of what I have learnt – both on pretrial risk assessment and EBDM will be helpful in shaping NZ’s own work in both areas. I’ll also present my findings and on my time in the US to wider audiences – staff across justice agencies in NZ, and to the Harkness Alumni.

Posted Wed, May 11 2016 12:48 PM by Elizabeth


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This blog is funded by a contract from the National Institute of Corrections, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions stated in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.