Dr Liz Gordon: The prisons paper

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There has been a lot of anticipation over the first report of Te Uepu Hapai I to ora, the justice advisory group.  On first look, it reminded me of nothing so much as the Roper Report of 1986 – reduce the numbers in prison, more rehabilitation, less punishment, improve things for prisoners, families, victims and so on.

But 35 years on (nearly), perhaps there is now an opportunity to do something better to solve these problems.

The importance of the report was not really in the general recommendations for improvement in the system.  The most crucial element was the detailed articulation of how Māori have increasingly become an imprisoned society, with one in five Māori males spending time in prison in their lives.

Others, especially Moana Jackson and more recently Kim Workman, have of course always articulated this within a framework of colonisation.  The report carefully spells out the biases in the justice system that lead to Māori incarceration and its effects upon the whole of Māori society.

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There is some fascinating discussion about alternatives for Māori justice.  Most lead from a ‘by Māori, for Māori’ perspective.  This will require much further work.  There is a potential huge additional burden on Māori society in taking on the justice role.  At the least, while it may have a decolonising influence, this may be replaced with other pressures.  Marae all around the country may have to put their customary roles on the back burner as they act as courts of nga tangata. However, the work on findings alternatives must proceed.

Thus we have now the beginning of a blueprint for effective change in the justice system.  There is hope for change.  There is also recognition in the report of the difficulties in achieving it.  In Chester Borrow’s introduction, he makes lots of points, including the following abridged comments:

At times, we were almost overwhelmed by the range of problems we heard New Zealanders have experienced in their encounters with the criminal justice system.

We recognise that finding solutions to the problems we have heard will not be simple. We will be required to work together and trust each other. In some cases, we will need to front up and take responsibility for past wrongs and deal with a legacy of social neglect.

To recognise the need in this area and do nothing is unintelligent, uncivilised and unfathomable. Encouragingly, it seems an increasing number of people are willing to step up and meet the challenges

In fact, significant and lasting change will likely take a generation to achieve.

This is why we must all be involved.

In short, it is beyond the capacity of the current government to make the changes that are needed to transform the justice system.  It can make a start, but future governments and the society as a whole must sign up for the change.

This seems to be a very honest view of the situation of the justice system.  We do not want a repeat of the Roper Review, where everyone said what a great report it was but nothing was ever done about it.

Issues of family violence and sexual offences were also highlighted in the report. I liked the section on legal processes, where the law was defined as slow, hard to understand, intimidating, inhuman and inaccessible. Access to justice barely exists in Aotearoa and there is unevenness throughout the system. While there are many lawyers, there is a significant shortage of good, free legal advice for offenders.

The working group still has a lot of work to do.  Areas such as alternatives to remand, family/ whanau friendly prisons and moving towards a prison-free society via a range of alternative options were barely even touched in the report.  But there was a scathing critique of the current prison system and the work it does, or does not, do.

With a couple of sociologists on the working group, it is not surprising that issues around resources in poor communities, poverty, inequality and poor education levels were tagged as playing a part in spawning crime.  Along with the high level of addictions, mental illness and other factors, this report points to the many failures of neo-liberal society as the prime cause of the state our justice system is in.

It should now be clear that transforming the justice system means transforming the whole society.  This is exciting but also more than a little daunting, although even from last year’s justice hui it was evident that the task was large and the purse empty.

I give this first report a 9/10 for the articulation of the issues of the justice system.  I look forward to the next instalment.  What is still in the balance is whether the government and our society have the competence and commitment to take on the mahi that neds doing in this space.

 

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society.  She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.

35 COMMENTS

  1. When they get these new judges can they make sure they aren’t racist and can they make sure they understand the communities they are serving. I have seen racist old judges , incompetent lawyers and very racist old pakeha JPs they look at you with their colonial eyes and your guilty straight away. Have any of you experienced this. I have been to court with whanau members and seen this behaviour. I have been told to sit down and be quiet by these racist old fools who appear to have one foot in the grave and on the justice gravy train.

    • Agree wholeheartedly and what makes it worst is that the minority brown person working in the Justice system has even become infected with this anomaly and also looks at their own in a condescending way.

      • Yes your right Stephen this behaviour has permeated into many of our state sectors and some of the brown people are worse than the others to their own. These people need to look at the objectives of the organisations they work for they are there to help the people not ridicule or punish them.

    • Michelle, you are aware the average list of convictions per inmate (Maori or not) is in excess of 20! Please don’t try and make out a Maori inmate was incarcerated for shoplifting a loaf of bread at first arrest. The reason there is 50% Maori in prison when only 20% of the population is because they DID THE CRIME!
      Then the old ‘colonialism’ gets trotted out as an excuse, FFS that was 200yrs ago, if you want to feel sorry for an indiginious race being truly downtrodden, take a good look over the ditch at Australia.
      Seems to me Michelle it’s easier to point fingers and shrill ‘racist’ than actually look inward at Maoridom and look for solutions rather than just asking successive governments (taxpayers) to throw money at year after year.

      • Yeah well youre a dickhead who believes that since youre white and have no problems with rascism when dealing with the law that it doesnt exist. However, it is a fact that drug use is evenly spread through white and black communities in the States and no reason to think any different here. The reason why people of colour fill prisons out of proportion to their composition of the populationis not as dickheads like you think, that they are predisposed to crime but because of rascism in the system. Its ok to go iin boots and all into coloured communities but not white or wealthy ones. Some people say you shouldnt be worried about being surveiled if you’ve not done anything but the watchers must always justify watching so its no good without a few trophies. And thats even before racsist attitudes kick in. Let one go to feel better about yourself? Not that Maori fella!! We’ll let the white one go. Thats you dickhead that they just let go. Its even better in poor brown communities. Then anyone with a percieved attitude problem is fair game. But you wouldn’t know about that cause you’re a dickhead

        • Spikeyboy: “Yeah well youre a dickhead who believes that since youre white and have no problems with rascism when dealing with the law that it doesnt exist.”

          This is just flinging insults, along with assumptions – on the basis of no evidence – about a commenter’s skin colour. This isn’t how to debate an issue.

          “….it is a fact that drug use is evenly spread through white and black communities in the States and no reason to think any different here. ”

          Where did this come from? I’m Right said nothing about drugs: why do you interpolate that issue into your response? I’d point out, though, that the police have very little interest in personal drug use; if Maori get booked for that, it’s because they’ve been caught committing some other crime, and are found with drugs in their possession.

          “…dickheads like you think, that they are predisposed to crime but because of rascism in the system.”

          What? I’m Right said nothing about brown people being predisposed to crime. And I haven’t, because it’s just rubbish: I’ve studied enough science to see the holes in that notion. Skin colour is an extrinsic, rather than intrinsic, characteristic; it entails nothing at all about individual predispositions to anything, let alone crime.

          ” Its ok to go iin boots and all into coloured communities but not white or wealthy ones.”

          As has already been pointed out, in NZ, crime is committed disproportionately by Maori, but not because of skin colour. There may be aspects of culture, as well as poverty, driving crime. But culture has nothing to do with skin colour, either.

          “But you wouldn’t know about that cause you’re a dickhead.”

          Insults again: unhelpful and most unfortunate.

          By the way: the spelling of those words you keep using is “racism/racist”, not “racsist/racsism”.

          • For the stats on black white drugg use in the US you could learn a lot by reading Michelle Alexanders excellent book The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colour blindness. It has the ability to open your eyes to the mechanisms that are used worldwide to subjugate those deemed unworthy.

            How extremely pompous of you to say the police ignore personal drug use. Probably they would ignore yours but not someone they view as a “nuisance ” and nuisance value is often tied to skin colour.

            Its pretty obvious what colour your skin is by the way you are talking.

            You cant have it both ways. Either the system is rigged against Maori and Pacifica i. e rascist or there is something in their makeup that predisposes them to criminal behaviour.

            And their you have it. You are a bigoted rascist dickhead because you believe that crime is COMITTED disproportionately by Maori.

            There is a parrallell. The SIS and GCSB believe that terrorism is only comitted by Muslims so thats the only place they look. Similarly in the US. Everyone in those agencies are a little shocked to find whiteys comitting terrorism. You can only find things where you look. It suits NZ society to look in Maori and Pacifica communities and there would be an uproar if they looked with the same severity in white communities

    • Michelle: “…can they make sure they aren’t racist….”

      Who is “they”, and what do you mean by “aren’t racist”?

      “…….and can they make sure they understand the communities they are serving.”

      Judges are appointed to serve the community as a whole, without fear or favour. Justice is blind to the ethnicity or sex of people appearing before the courts.

      “…very racist old pakeha JPs they look at you with their colonial eyes…”

      What does this even mean? Colonial eyes: good grief. I worked for some years in the south island. A salient lesson from those times: one cannot be sure who is Maori – and identifies as such – by looking at them. It is necessary to ask.

      “I have been told to sit down and be quiet by these racist old fools…”

      I have very recently sat on the jury of a case; the rules of etiquette and behaviour apply to everyone equally, regardless of their provenance. Individuals can be held in contempt if they break those rules.

      Have a care regarding the language you use about officers of the court; insulting people is both bad manners and counter-productive. Judge people by what they do, not what they say. Don’t impute motivations to people: you cannot possibly know what’s in their minds.

      I remind you: Maori are disproportionately before the courts and imprisoned because they disproportionately commit the crimes. Argue all you want: this is indisputable. As I’m Right points out below, the average conviction list for those imprisoned – whether or not they’re Maori – is usually quite long before judges will impose a prison term. I remind you also that it isn’t only Maori in prison: it’s just that Maori numbers are disproportionate, given their numbers in the population in general.

      The reasons for that imbalance are another matter. When I was young in the 1950s and 60s, prisoners were about as likely to be non-Maori as Maori. Crime rates have more to do with class – in NZ broadly defined by socio-economic status – than any other factor. Thus crime tends to be concentrated in areas of poverty.

      When I was young, the poor were both Maori and non-Maori (such as my family). However, the neoliberal bulldozer in the 1980s rolled over the economy and obliterated many jobs. This had a catastrophic effect of Maori communities, whose jobs were to a considerable extent those that were lost. Add to that the arrival of first marijuana and then methamphetamine, and we have a perfect storm of sorts.

      Thirty-plus years later, and here we are: the poverty-stricken communities of NZ are disproportionately (but not exclusively) Maori, with all the consequences that we now see.

      There are, of course, many middle-class Maori. We know them: we went to school and university with them; our children went to school with them. They’re doctors and lawyers and professionals of other sorts, and tradesmen; and they’re not before the courts or in prison. And they exemplify what I’ve said here: class is the issue, not ethnicity.

      • Holy cow man (or woman). There’s plenty statistics to show that what you avow is fantasy from disneyworld. Have you checked out lately the odds for Maori or Pacifica to escape prison and compared them to White folks? Has the difference given you a little jolt? Or is your cosy little experience on the jury with all its lovely intimacy seduced you into a relationship that brooks no questions. I know! All those brown people in prison it must just be that they are all somehow inferior.

        • Spikeyboy: “There’s plenty statistics to show that what you avow is fantasy from disneyworld.”

          You adduce statistics; let’s be seeing them, then. Those which I’ve read support what I’ve been saying.

          ” All those brown people in prison it must just be that they are all somehow inferior.”

          Did you actually read anything that I wrote? I didn’t say that, nor do I think like that. I pointed out the indisputable fact that Maori are disproportionately in prison because they commit crime disproportionately.

          And in my view, skin colour is irrelevant: poverty is the primary driver of crime, as is the case worldwide. Sadly, Maori are overrepresented among the very poor. Which of itself is a whole other can of worms.

          But there are many middle-class Maori who don’t clutter up the courts. It was ever thus.

          I come to sites like this because I’ve had a gutsful of the superficial coverage of such issues by the msm. I believe that there’s an alternative way of looking at the problem of crime among Maori.

          What I’d really appreciate is thoughtful engagement with the ideas that I and other commenters put forward.

          If you don’t have an actual countervailing set of arguments, it’d be best if you left responses to other commenters who do.

          • Your indis putable fact is a load of tosh which shines a light on your rascism. The fact that more Maori are in jail does not in any way translate to them being more likely to commit a crime. Or thate they do commit more crime. You need a policeman to arrest somebody. If the policeman never is in the neighbourhood no one can be arrested. Where you send your policeman determines whose crimes are caught. Its not rocket science

  2. I’m right you are wrong have you been before the courts and have you sat in court for a day and seen the goings on and has a pakeha police man done a u turn to pull you up when you have done nothing and then you have to listen to his lame excuse for pulling you over when really he is stereo typing and being racist. Colonisation has lot to do with how we have ended up. When you colonise a people im right you assume you are superior you assimilate them, is this not racist in your eyes or are you blinded by your entrenched monocultural views. We only have to look at countries like Hawaii there prisons are full of Hawaiians isn’t that a negative side of colonisation. im right i am tax payer my father was a tax payer and his father was tax payer so what the fuck are you talking about we have a right to be taken care of like any other NZer but we haven’t been looked after why do you think they had to have Maori affairs homes for our people too much racism and discrimination. Use the taxes we pay for cigarettes and alcohol and everything else we are tax payers and don’t you forget that.

    • Michelle you certainly are right and its a freakin tradgedy. Like you say its happened all around the world. The colonised end up filling the jails if there’s any of them left after being shot and robbed and dispossessed of land and community and wellbeing. And then to be told again and again and again that we really dont want to fill our jails with your people. This is the real crime and those perpetrating it the real criminals. We wont see any real justice reform from this lot cause they only talk (with forked tongues as per usual) Already taking drugs away from the criminal code and putting them with health where they belong has been taken off the table and this is the first and easiest step to make. Portugal is a good model and has been doing this effectively for decades. If they are too chicken shit for even this basic level of humanity in the crime code then the type of transformation is likely to be on a par with the budget

    • Michelle: “…have you sat in court for a day and seen the goings on…”

      Yes. I have. And one would have to be blind not to notice the sad procession of Maori, both offenders and offended-against. Indisputable evidence of high offending rates among Maori.

      “….a pakeha police man done a u turn to pull you up when you have done nothing….”

      The Pakeha policeman does this because crime rates among Maori are so high that – unsurprisingly – they tend to be suspicious of all Maori. That was what they used to do; policy changes may well have changed the ways in which police now operate.

      “…we have a right to be taken care of like any other NZer but we haven’t been looked after…”

      Social services in this country have been available to everyone, Maori included. I worked in the health services for many years; our efforts disproportionately focused on Maori, because their health stats were so negative.

      I’ve said elsewhere on this thread that class, ie, poverty, drives high Maori crime rates; it also drives poor health stats and failure in education. And poverty doesn’t exclusively affect Maori, although there’s a differential effect.

      Neoliberalism is the tragedy of NZ; that’s the reason benefit levels are shamefully low – which, of course, differentially affects Maori. I’m infuriated by the pusillanimity of the current government: it ought to raise benefit levels by around 50%, but it won’t do that, because that would entail raising taxes. And they lack the courage to front-foot a decision of that sort. Jacinda appears not to be willing to spend any of her political capital on that issue, even though it’s fundamentally important to making improvements.

      So now we have statements of this sort:

      https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/te-manu-korihi/391625/maori-led-justice-initiatives-for-maori-essential-advisor

      The problem with this notion is firstly, what she proposes won’t work if it doesn’t address the fundamental drivers of crime in the Maori world. And I think that it doesn’t.

      And secondly, her proposal sounds suspiciously like the return to segregation that’s presently emerging in US universities. It’s evident that Wahipooti subscribes to the contemporary definition of “racism”. But how can more segregation be the solution to the problem of high Maori crime rates?

      • “Wahipooti” Hmm…bloody auto-edit! That should have been “Whaipooti”, which is what I wrote in the first place.

        I dislike having my own name misspelled; I wish to do Whaipooti the courtesy of getting her name right.

      • “The Pakeha policeman does this because crime rates among Maori are so high that – unsurprisingly – they tend to be suspicious of all Maori. That was what they used to do; policy changes may well have changed the ways in which police now operate.”

        This statement is really quite sick. Do you really believe every fairy story that you hear?

        Just got back from seeing the James Baldwin movie I’m Not Your Negro. Highly reccommend. Probably understandable why Rodney King got a beating too. Or do you think maybe they went a wee bit far that time?

  3. When Taika Waititi came out and said NZ is racist as fuck, I’m Right and De’ESTERE and the likes told him to “Sit Down and Shut UP” I’m with you Michelle

    • Doc: “….I’m Right and De’ESTERE and the likes told him to “Sit Down and Shut UP””

      Doc, here’s what I actually said, with regard to the HRC campaign, and Taika Waititi’s role in it. As you can see, I did not tell him to sit down and shut up; in any event, that isn’t my modus operandi. And it would be bizarre, given that in my view, those who fling the racism epithet are just trying to shut other people up.

      ” I wonder that Taika Waititi would get involved in a finger-wagging campaign such as this; though I conclude that his clip is a neat illustration of irony.

      I’m irritated by this well-meaning but wrong-headed stuff from the Human Rights Commission. Characterising people as “racist” is just name-calling; when people do it to me, I conclude that the name-caller has either run out of arguments, or hasn’t any countervailing argument to begin with. It’s designed to shut people up and silence alternative views: a really pernicious notion in a free society.

      It’s worth pointing out – again – that actual racism is the preserve of governments, which can enact legislation affecting entire categories of people. Apartheid South Africa and pre-civil rights era US, for instance. Individual citizens can’t do this. Moreover, the institutions of NZ society aren’t racist.

      The HRC claims that complaints about “racism” are increasing. What they’re talking about is presumably what Tom Lehrer was singing about in that hilarious clip: people saying mean things to and about one another.

      Discrimination and prejudice are part of the human condition; we are a groupish species, and discrimination of that sort is hard-wired into us. In general, we prefer to live, work and socialise with people who look and sound like us, and who share and understand our cultural norms and subleties. There is NOTHING wrong with this.

      The increase of what HRC calls “racism” mirrors increasing immigration to NZ from a variety of countries. Of course people – said immigrants included – will exhibit bias and prejudice. It’s human nature. But people – immigrants included – have to abide by our laws, which are blind to ethnic differences. If individual people discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, they’re breaking the law and can be prosecuted.

      Meantime, I sincerely hope that this campaign dies the death it so richly deserves. Stop lecturing the rest of us already!”

      in my view, Taika Waititi is a film-maker of rare ability; I try always to see his movies. He’s a genius, and he shows up other NZ film-makers for the amateurs that they are. Which is part of the reason why I was surprised that he’d have allowed himself to get tangled up in that finger-wagging HRC campaign. He’s better than that.

      • Speaking of finger waggers… I can see yours vibrating but its moving almost too fast… Taika getting a bit uppity is he? Things may look pretty good from the cloistered place where you live but the view up from below is not so good. Best to let bygones be bygones is it. We all need to assimilate to the European neoconservative capitalist view of greed is good I suppose. Sorry but what has been taken is of too much value. The world used to belong to us all not just the few and we want it back and because people like you know that we want it back you are happy with the rigged system that is European law where position in society and access to money and lawyers counts way above whats right and decent. $20B just announced for “defence” while Maori and Pacifica are crammed into more prisons. Its a joke really. A very sick one.

        • Spikeyboy: “We all need to assimilate to the European neoconservative capitalist view of greed is good I suppose”

          Oh for heavens sake! Do you actually read anything? Or do you just not let comments get in the way of a good rant on your part?

          Here’s what I said up above:

          “Neoliberalism is the tragedy of NZ; that’s the reason benefit levels are shamefully low – which, of course, differentially affects Maori. I’m infuriated by the pusillanimity of the current government: it ought to raise benefit levels by around 50%, but it won’t do that, because that would entail raising taxes. And they lack the courage to front-foot a decision of that sort. Jacinda appears not to be willing to spend any of her political capital on that issue, even though it’s fundamentally important to making improvements.”

          That’s what I and other old Lefties think.

          “…we want it back and because people like you know that we want it back you are happy with the rigged system that is European law where position in society and access to money and lawyers counts way above whats right and decent.”

          You know nothing about what I – or “people like me” – think about such things. Know this: victims certainly see the justice system as being rigged against them and in favour of offenders. After my most recent experience on a jury, I’m inclined to agree with said victims.

          “$20B just announced for “defence””

          I’m definitely not a fan of so much money going into defence. I’d much prefer that it went into raising benefits, along with the incomes of the lowest-paid.

          “…while Maori and Pacifica are crammed into more prisons.”

          Sigh….at the risk of being repetitious: Maori are crammed into prisons because they disproportionately commit crime. You’d have to be living under a rock not to know this. The solution to this problem? It’s Maori committing less crime, not letting guilty people go free. And at least a part of the solution is to raise benefit levels and incomes generally. Crime flourishes where poverty rules.

          • At the risk of being repititious Maori dont commit more crime in exactly the same way as Black Americans dont fill jails in the US because they commit more crime nor Palestinians fill Israeli prisons because they commit more crime or any other colonised nation in the world where the jails are filled withe the indigenous people. How it is that you can think that NZ is some wonerful exceptional exception to the rule that the colonisers imprison the colonised just beggars belief. We may be a little more polite about it but whats politeness got to do with it when someones throwing away the keys? And if you just want to beg the question and posit poverty then al that does is ask the question why Maori are over represented in poverty stats? Do you think that they are some predisposed to living in poverty or is the system rigged against them i. e rascism?

      • NOTHING wrong with discrimination and prejudice? I can oh-dear much of your contentious remarks but to say there’s nothing wrong is patently obtuse.
        I suppose you mean that in principle we are tribal and that in and of itself is not the problem, but the way you phrase it suggests that no problems exist in that framework.
        At best it is a smoke-and-mirrors obfuscation of the very real reality that within everyday, non-governmental social interactions all kinds of egregious prejudices take place. What I do agree with you on is that meaningful change has to occur at the systems level for attitudes to change on the ground.

        • Nik: how about you read what I actually wrote. It was this:

          “In general, we prefer to live, work and socialise with people who look and sound like us, and who share and understand our cultural norms and subleties. There is NOTHING wrong with this.”

          And indeed, there’s nothing wrong with it. We certainly do it, and I’ll bet that you do too. Nobody can force others to see the world differently; nor should anybody be attempting it. How on earth could that be brought about in any event?

          The best a society can do is to have a secular legal system which is blind to religion, skin colour and ethnicity. And that’s what we have here in NZ.

          “What I do agree with you on is that meaningful change has to occur at the systems level for attitudes to change on the ground.”

          I didn’t say that. And I don’t think it.You must have some other commenter in mind.

            • Nik: “OK, so you really do deny any semblance of institutional racism contained in our system. Got it.”

              Wakey wakey! The notion of institutional racism is a furphy. Think about it…

              • Sorry, in an attempt at brevity I was unclear. Of course, on paper there is no prejudice. However, in practice according to many front-line accounts, racism prevails, and needs addressing. Of course there are more factors starting from the birth of the disenfranchised ethnicities, being deep-set socioeconomic issues that do go right back to the time they were colonised. I qualify this situation as a Bad Thing that needs addressing.

      • Taika is also a Maori who can speak directly to the question of institutional racism, which he did, as is his right. For you to say he’s ‘better than’ being a human taking a stand on a deeply problematic issue is patent ad-hominem strawman gaslighting – a trifecta of bigotry tactics!

        • Nik: “For you to say he’s ‘better than’ being a human taking a stand on a deeply problematic issue is patent ad-hominem strawman gaslighting…”

          Do you actually remember Devoy’s wrong-headed campaign? And Waititi’s video? I do. I thought his piece must be irony, it fitted so neatly that characterisation.

          In any event, that campaign died a well-deserved death.

      • PS i expect Roger Donaldson, Geoff Murphy, Jane Campion, Gaylene Preston, Martin Campbell, Peter Jackson, Vincent Ward and Lee Tamahori and so on and so forth et al etc speak very highly of your work.

        • Nik: “…..and so on and so forth et al etc speak very highly of your work”

          You think what you like. And I don’t give a damn what the rest of those people think: in my view, Taika Waititi runs rings around them when it comes to film-making. He’s a genius.

          • Good for you then. I find it significant that you choose to respond to the most glib, least relevant of my three points.

  4. Doc I have only given two examples of racism that i have experienced in our country since i was born and i could give many more disturbing examples of racism and give more credence and weight to what i am saying and trying to say. D estere to say social services are available for our people yes i know this i use to work for a Hauroa and they were always looking for more money to deliver their social contracts cause the money wasn’t enough. I have sat in court and seen enough of our justice system to be able to say it is fucken racist and so are many who work in the system.

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