'I've got people batting for me': Life-long Kiwi criminal on what's keeping him out of jail

Shannon Watene has 'notorious' written all over his face.

That's not just a turn of phrase; he actually has the word 'notorious' tattooed on his face, alongside the number 13.

But with the help of a social worker who has a similar background, he's taken a few small steps towards turning his life around.

Mr Watene has been in and out of court and prison since he was a teenager, but since going through the family violence court - where there's extra support available - he's coping much better.

"It's the longest I've stayed out of jail - like seriously, almost a year, which is a f**king long time for me," he explained.

Wii and Jenny Manuera from the community organisation Manuera Life Development Services have been helping him assess his needs, get help, and set goals.

It's made him more accountable, Mr Watene said.

"I've got people batting for me, so I don't want to let them down - but most of all myself."

Wii Manuera has served timed himself, which has helped Mr Watene in his recovery.

Mr Manuera understood important issues such as the need to be clean from drugs and alcohol before making a plea in court.

"Unless we clarify and demystify what the hell is going on in [defendants'] minds, then we won't be able to help them - we'll be as confused as they are," he said.

The need for a more community-centred focus in addressing justice issues has been fought by Michelle Kidd for more than 20 years.

Ms Kidd, of Te Rangimarie Charitable Trust, works with people at the district courts in Auckland and helps the homeless.

In her experience, establishing a specialist mental health court and a detox unit would help to curb the number of people in the system.

"They cannot plead guilty or not guilty until they get rid of the alcohol or drugs in them," she said. "Detoxing in a prison cell or a police cell is cruel."

Any extra support would help, Mr Watene said. If he had had the support of Wii Manuera back, he thinks things would have been different.

"If you've got a good network beside you that can roll with you, tell you to be straight ... and you're straight up with them, you'll go a long way."

The recently formed Criminal Justice advisory group is looking into how it can cut repeat offending, and will report back to the Justice Minister early next year.