Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora: An offence focussed programme for high risk youth

Glen Kilgour
Principal Adviser Special Treatment Unit Development, Department of Corrections

Jessica Borg
Senior Adviser Psychology, Department of Corrections

Author biographies

Glen Kilgour trained as a clinical psychologist at Waikato University, graduating in the early 1990s. He has worked in the Department since 1995 in a variety of roles including principal psychologist and, currently, a principal adviser in the Office of the Chief Psychologist. His interests include reducing violence, programme evaluation, group therapy, young offenders, leadership, staff development, and science fiction.

Jessica Borg graduated as a clinical psychologist in 2006, initially taking up a role as a psychologist in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. She has worked at the Department of Corrections since 2008 as a psychologist, senior psychologist, and acting principal psychologist in Hamilton. In February 2015 she took up the role of Senior Adviser at the Office of the Chief Psychologist. Her role in this project came about during her secondment to the Office of the Chief Psychologist in 2014 where she developed the Mauri Tu Mauri Ora programme session plans and resources. Jessica has worked extensively with youth offenders at Waikeria Prison (assessment, treatment, and supervising youth programmes) and has designed and delivered training on engaging youth offenders to departmental psychologists and corrections officers.


The Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme for high risk youth is the culmination of a number of years work by many individuals at the Department of Corrections, NZ. Roughly translated, Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora, means “the alert life force begets life” and reflects a theme of building strength and “stepping up” to preparing to move to the next level, in keeping with the tuakana/teina (mentoring) model of the programme and the developmental processes of the young participants. The term “Mauri Tu” aligns with the process of standing and addressing offending and the needs related to this.

Although previously there have been a number of offence-focussed programmes offered for young offenders, particularly within the Young Offender Units (YOUs) in New Zealand, youth at high risk of offending have had no specialised programmes available to meet their needs in the past. Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora was developed in 2014 to provide an intensive rehabilitation option for incarcerated youth between 16 and 20 years of age who are deemed to be at a high risk of re-offending. It is considered from the literature that this group presents with high and complex needs that require more intensive intervention with a higher degree of expertise and oversight than currently available treatment options. The therapeutic programme is designed to be delivered within a designated youth unit or facility that incorporates a structured day and anti-bullying strategy.

A full background to the Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora project including a literature review regarding high-risk youth offenders is available (Neil, 2014). Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora is part of the broader Youth Strategy for the New Zealand Department of Corrections which aims to build world leading rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for young offenders.

Suitability and assessment for Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora

Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora has been designed and written specifically for young people aged up to 20 years  old with the ability to be located in the facility or unit delivering the programme and at a high risk of re-offending. The programme caters for youth with index violence or non-sexual offending (youth with prior sex offences may only be considered if they have current index non-sexual offences) and pre-programme assessment includes:

  • a clinical interview identifying the broad risk, needs and responsivity concerns
  • the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (YLS/CMI; Hoge & Andrews, 2011) for those under 18 to formally identify risk and treatment needs (or the corresponding adult version for clients over 18)
  • the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY; Borum, Bartel, & Forth, 2006) if the youth has specific violent offending or disclosures of prior undetected violence.

Other specialised psychological measures may be indicated and applied based on the findings of the above assessments. These may include specialist cultural, health, mental health or Accident Compensation Corporation assessments. Suitability for attendance at the Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora will derive from the above assessment and include consultation with the youth involved and a case review team at the designated site.

Theoretical and practical underpinning of the programme

A full description of the underlying psychological theory that provides the basis for the programme is described by Neil (2014). In summary, the programme takes a social learning approach whereby it is assumed that interpersonal behaviour and cognition are developed and learned (e.g., via observation, modelling, and reinforcement principles) through social systems and experiences. The social learning approach acknowledges the direct and indirect impact of biological, personality, and broader environmental contributions (e.g., social context, culture) to behaviour. A number of practical and well-validated treatment methodologies (e.g., Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and its variants) are derived from the social learning model.

The Risk, Needs, and Responsivity (RNR) model (Andrews, Bonta, & Hoge, 1990) is the primary model used by the Department of Corrections to classify and assign offenders to relevant interventions. Comprehensive pre-programme assessment identifies youth at high risk of further serious offending and identifies the specific offence-related needs and responsivity needs of these youth to be addressed in treatment. More generally the responsivity principle is attended to by:

  • completing individualised pre-programme assessments and developing shared objectives with each youth at the early stage of the programme
  • keeping the number of models and strategies used in the therapy room to a minimum but ensuring that those used are well practiced
  • encouraging the youth to participate in the direction of the group by providing opportunities to select session topics which are “hot” for them
  • using active learning techniques so that youth remain stimulated and engaged
  • providing a self-paced strategy of learning
  • providing the group-therapy component of treatment within a broader structured day that is stimulating, rewarding, and engaging for youth
  • recognising and validating key personal and group attributes (e.g., life experience, culture, strengths) as assets.

Assuming a relatively higher level of personality dysfunction among higher risk youth offenders, John Livesley’s model of personality disorder is conceptualised into an integrated framework (Livesley, 2012) for the treatment of personality disorders. The five phases of treatment suggested by Livesley’s integrated model are:

  • safety: interventions are delivered to ensure safety of participants and others
  • containment: interventions based primarily on general therapeutic strategies to contain affective and behavioural instability (e.g., building therapeutic alliance, increasing motivation, setting kawa and group norms, basic skills for managing emotions)
  • self-control and self-regulation: behavioural and cognitive interventions to reduce symptoms and improve self-regulation of affect and impulses (e.g., further developing skills at emotion regulation and impulse control, education about models)
  • exploration and change: cognitive, interpersonal,  and psychodynamic interventions to change the cognitive, affective, and situational factors contributing to problem behaviour (e.g., specific therapeutic techniques such as cognitive skills, examining schema)
  • integration and synthesis: interventions designed to address core pathology and forge a more integrated and adaptive self and interpersonal systems (e.g. development of pro-social identity, planning for transition, relapse prevention planning).

In line with Livesley’s recommended approach to draw from evidence-based interventions or strategies to address particular areas or issues for programme participants, Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora acknowledges and incorporates a number of other common or developing models (Neil, 2014). These are shown in Table 1. Careful attention is given to not overburdening the youth with too many different ideas or concepts, but rather selecting and persisting with particular strategies so participants can develop a reliable and shared framework and language for their change process.

Engagement is likely to be more difficult for therapists when working with antisocial youth, particularly when the ethnic and cultural backgrounds are disparate. Therapists should pay particular attention to:

  • understanding (if not approving) current youth culture (including antisocial and prosocial norms)
  • being self-aware and comfortable with themselves
  • recognising, understanding, and valuing the impact of difference within therapeutic environments
  • building comfort and confidence with appropriate validation language and behaviour (e.g., validating experience without approving of antisocial behaviour
  • understanding the developmental stages and needs of youth.

Table 1:
Selected treatment modalities or strategies within Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora

Strategy or modelRationale
Te Whare Tapa WhaStrengths-based focus for lifestyle change commonly used in other programmes that youth might also later experience
Good Lives ModelDevelop understanding for strengths-based goals and needs
Life CompassExercise to operationalise and personalise goals and values for individual youths
Cognitive Self ChangeParticipant directed strategy for developing prosocial beliefs and addressing problem cognition and behaviour in the ‘here and now’
Tuakana-teina modelPromotion of personal agency and prosocial behaviour practice in the treatment environment
DEAR modelIntroduce and practise simple communication skills
'Stop, Think, Do'Introduce and practise simple communication skills
MindfulnessEmotional and cognitive self-regulation skill
Dialectical behavioural therapy treatment hierarchyFramework for identifying and addressing current therapeutic challenges within the therapy room
Relapse preventionUnderstanding and building resilience to threats to change
Growth mindsetBuilding personal agency and resilience to feedback

Culture and the Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme

During the development of Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora considerable thought was given to how cultural process and practices should be addressed within the programme, particularly given that a significant proportion of programme participants will be Māori.
Previously the predominant practice within Department of Corrections’ programmes has been to incorporate a range of Mäori concepts, language and metaphor into the design of programmes. However, this practice can become, at least, partially dependent on the skills and attributes of facilitators, such as having a facilitator who is comfortable and knowledgeable about a “Māori world view”. In contrast it is not uncommon for facilitators with markedly different cultural backgrounds to be “presenting” Māori cultural concepts to participants who are more familiar with these concepts. At best this is embarrassing and uncomfortable for all involved. On occasion it can create mistrust, hostility and conflict between facilitators and clients. Additionally, this approach has the risk of alienating or under-valuing the cultural experiences of programme participants from other “world-views”, such as Pacific peoples and those from non-Māori backgrounds.

The Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme attempts to address the above issue independently of the backgrounds of the programme facilitators by specifically incorporating the following processes:

Cultural models

There are two specific cultural models that are used within the programme: (1) Te Whare Tapa Wha; and (2) the Tuakana-Teina model. The first of these is well tried and tested within correctional programming in New Zealand and facilitators from a range of cultural backgrounds have been trained to understand and deliver the model safely. This model is generally well understood and accepted by Māori and non-Māori alike. The second (Tuakana-Teina) is not so much a therapy technique as a unit-wide strategy to engage the men in owning their progress in the broader therapeutic environment. It is expected that facilitators will work closely with custody staff to operationalise these models within the day-to-day life of the broader unit.

Cultural supervision

Supervision of facilitators by a supervisor familiar with a Māori world view aims to assist these facilitators to safely recognise and structure opportunities for the youth to identify their own cultural needs, develop plans and opportunities to meet these needs, share their learning and development with the group where appropriate, and integrate their increasing cultural awareness into their personal identity.

Client as expert

The key defining feature of Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora in addressing the cultural needs of the youth involved is a philosophy of “client as expert” around their cultural experiences and identity. The “client as expert” approach should not be confused with assuming that any given client is an expert in their traditional cultural world view. In reality each youth will have a range of different cultural experiences – positive and negative – and a different level of connectedness and personal identity related to their ethnic background/s and culture/s. The “client as expert” approach recognises other cultures and worldviews and what can be learned from them (including historical or even recent human rights violations, for example). This has a bearing on encouraging “growth mindsets” and an opportunity for open dialogue and helpful listening. The “client as expert” approach implies a set of principles and behaviours for facilitators to work with their group members in defining and addressing their cultural needs, including:

  • each youth is “expert” about where they are up to in developing their cultural identity and will be encouraged to take the next step through a range of organised experiences within the unit (e.g., tikanga programmes, progression from teina to tuakana, connection with prosocial cultural role models, self-directed learning, contribution to group, etc)
  • expertise is elicited through group or individual discussions with the youth around their engagement with their culture
  • each youth is to be validated for their contribution to the group around cultural knowledge and experiences
  • this knowledge and experience should be regularly solicited by facilitators to enhance the learning of all participants.

The role of whānau

There are regular exercises and opportunities in the Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme where participants are encouraged to build and maintain whänau support for their programme involvement and ongoing rehabilitation and reintegration. Some participants will already have good supports available for them on release while others may have “burned bridges” through choice or as a consequence of their offending or other behaviour. The position of the programme is to actively encourage each participant with an individualised plan to engage prosocial whänau support early and regularly during the programme.

Broad programme framework

Programme phases

The Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme is divided into three broad phases: (1) “induction” including pre-programme assessment and a “starter group” consisting of eight introductory sessions to prepare new participants; (2) the “core programme” consisting of up to 35 sessions of key programme content, plus descriptions of how to integrate the Cognitive Self-Change component into core sessions; and (3) a “transition phase” describing strategies and processes that assist the youth to move beyond the Youth facility and/or return to the community.

“Rolling” programme

Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora is run with an open-group or, “rolling” programme format, whereby youth are able to join the group based on their availability, rather than waiting for a fixed start date. This allows for greater flexibility around access to treatment, sentence management, and making the most of the custodial period for higher risk youth who are serving shorter sentences.

Tuakana-Teina model

Youth on the Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme are designated status of tuakana (older brother) or teina (younger brother) depending on their current participation and progression through the programme. This model is used to encourage and promote self-responsibility, self-development and self-control (personal agency), provide opportunities to practise and role-model prosocial skills, and build engagement and ownership of the programme.

All new participants become teina at the outset of their attendance. A decision on when a youth is designated to tuakana will take into consideration:

  • how consistently the youth is engaged with the programme
  • whether the behaviour of the participant is of a good standard both in and outside of the therapy room
  • how well the youth role-models prosocial values and conduct to other members of the group within the unit.

Youth designated tuakana may be assigned particular roles and opportunities within the unit. Examples may include:

  • being on the leadership group for the unit
  • helping lead a “special project” within the unit (e.g., sports days, whānau days)
  • being responsible for opening or closing therapy sessions
  • assisting others with homework activities.

Tuakana status may be revoked (temporarily or for longer) on the basis of behaviour not consistent with the role (e.g., misconduct, role-modelling of antisocial behaviour). Therapists and custody staff are expected to work together to continually develop and promote the tuakana-teina model.

The structured day

Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora is not simply what happens in the therapy room but occurs within the day-to-day rehabilitative and reintegrative activities within the broader Youth Unit or other suitable facility. As such the Youth Unit will operate within a structured day that specifically addresses the offence-related and other needs of incarcerated youth as part of a broader youth strategy. The structured day will be negotiated between custody and therapy staff and include components such as therapy, education, employment, recreation, cultural activities, and reintegrative opportunities. The structured day will actively engage all youth within the unit regardless of risk and need profile.

Case review

A case review team including custody and treatment staff meet regularly to discuss the management and involvement of each participant. The participant will be included in these meetings and has a role in contributing information and opinions about their progress and needs but not making the decisions.

Cognitive Self Change (CSC) approach

In brief, Cognitive Self Change originated from Bush’s original “Thinking for Change” programme (1989). It is a CBT-type intervention and focuses on thinking, internal control over thoughts, and developing the ability to recognise risks and use new ways of thinking to avoid problem behaviour, and develop social skills and problem solving. The CSC model embraces the philosophy that offenders aren’t required to change, but rather they are required to learn to change. The programme consists of four steps: (1) monitoring and reporting on thinking; (2) recognising thinking patterns, risky thinking that leads to criminal behaviour; (3) constructing alternative ways of thinking that lead to more adaptive behaviour; and (4) rehearsal and practice of new thinking skills. The programme philosophy suggests that once participants realise that there are two ways of thinking about a situation they then take responsibility for making the choice as to whether or not they want to use the new thinking (Bush & Bilodeau, 1993).

CSC as a standalone therapy has had mixed results with some research indicating relatively high levels of drop-out and criticism that it fails to address the broader context for offending. Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora therefore aims to include a CSC approach within a treatment approach covering a broader range of treatment needs. Participants are expected to work through the CSC process at their own pace (albeit with regular encouragement) and present assignments within group sessions in order to progress through the four-stages of the programme.

Safety planning

Participants work on their safety plans throughout the programme when developing their life compass, understanding their offence pathways, the emotions and problem thinking surrounding their offences, and the skills required to manage high risk situations. A safety planning module will synthesise their previous knowledge to develop an individualised robust plan towards their release or transition.


High risk youth offenders typically present with complex needs that require intensive intervention and multidisciplinary involvement. The Mauri Tu, Mauri Ora programme was designed by the Department of Corrections in 2014 with this in mind. It is a specialised and intensive rolling group programme for high risk offenders aged between 16 and 20 years.

The programme is grounded on well-established and researched theories. Moreover, in line with best practice, the programme also draws from evidence-based interventions to address particular content areas or issues for programme participants.

The programme is divided into three broad phases: (1) “induction” including pre-programme assessment and a “starter group” to prepare new participants; (2) the “core programme”; and (3) a “transition phase” to assist the youth to move beyond the Youth Unit and/or return to the community. The programme is designed to run within a facility that can accommodate a structured day setting. This will include therapy, education, employment, recreation, cultural activities, and reintegrative opportunities. The active participation of custodial and case management staff in such a setting is crucial. Staff in such a setting would be trained in engaging youth offenders, and in understanding and implementing the principles underpinning the programme and the structured day approach. At this time, the Mauri Tu Mauri Ora programme is being run jointly with Child, Youth & Family at the youth justice facility Korowai Manaaki in South Auckland.

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Borum, R., Bartel, R., & Forth, A. (2006). Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth: Professional Manual. PAR, Florida.

Bush, J., & Bilodeau, B. (1993). Options: A cognitive change program. Washington, DC: National Institute of Corrections.

Hoge, R.D., & Andrews, D.A. (2011). Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory 2.0. Multi-Health Systems, Ontario.

Livesley, W.J. (2012). Integrated treatment: A conceptual framework for an evidence-based approach to the treatment of personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 26(1), 17-42.

Neil, T. (2014). Rehabilitation Programme for High Risk Youth. Unpublished Project Report. Department Of Corrections, NZ.