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Release: Beware the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Beware the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Dr Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia, Co-leaders, Maori Party Tuesday 15th August 2006

The Maori Party today welcomed the announcement of new initiatives to make "desperately-needed changes" in prison reform.

"We have watched the ever-escalating trend in rising numbers of Maori inmates with real concern" said Dr Pita Sharples, Maori Party Spokesperson for Corrections.

"In less than three years, the total number of Maori inmates leapt from 2883 (2002) to nearly 3481 (2005) said Dr Sharples.

Transparent, Consistent and Standardised "These numbers give us every reason to want to look with optimism at a package which is being painted as 'transparent, consistent and standardised' said Dr Sharples.

"We hope these same values will apply in the case of home detention".

"It is alarming to see that although Maori consistently make up 50% of all inmates, in the 2004 allocation of 'Home D' sentences to 1120 offenders; only 37% of the sentences were to Maori, 50% to European; 9% to Pacific; 3% Asian".

"One would think, one law for all would mean Maori would be receiving home detention at the same basis as their population".

"So while we welcome the introduction of home detention as a sentence in its own right, we will also be watching to ensure that 'transparent, consistent and standardised' actually means something", said Dr Sharples.

"We will be asking - how will this change systemic bias and institutional racism? That is the question!"

Rehabilitation Focus Places Pressure on Whanau "While we are pleased with the introduction of community sentences, and home detention, there are still some huge concerns for us about effective follow-up and the involvement of whanau in the grand scheme" said Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party.

""We know that drug offenders with leave to apply are significantly more likely to be released on home detention than inmates imprisoned for any other type of offence" stated Mrs Turia, Maori Party spokesperson for whanau development.

"Knowing this, we have to ask - what support will there be for whanau, to support the complete lifestyle change necessary to change patterns of drug and alcohol abuse? Increasing home detention is great - but the down side is it can place a huge risk to whanau stability. We hope that the Government will be investing in the appropriate resources to make sure that our people actually have a chance to succeed".

"Otherwise, this whole package could be a wolf in sheep's clothing - looks good, but without the backup, it'll all fall over".

"The proposals will also transfer a lot more responsibility to the community, to bring about effective reintegration of inmates back into society," said Mrs Turia.

"We will be making sure the Government doesn't plant all the responsibility and none of the resource on an already overloaded community and voluntary sector. The vital work our community does in bringing about change deserves strong Government investment".

System Still Needs Massive Overhaul The Maori Party is pleased to see the Government responding to the calls that have come from the Maori Party, and many community providers, about the need for a revamp of the sentencing system.

"We are really pleased to see the Government making a commitment to ensure a better range of sentencing options; and that there will be funding for restorative justice" said Dr Sharples.

"We also look forward to being involved in the setting up of the Sentencing Council. Clearly, given the disproportionate representation of Maori in the prison population, we would expect to be involved in that process".

"Our over-arching concern however, is that while it is all well and good the Government saying there has been too little emphasis on rehabilitation, there is very little in this package, which signals anything will change in the community - in terms of our thinking around the criminal justice system" said Dr Sharples.

"We want to see active debate about how we can decrease New Zealand's over-reliance on the use of imprisonment as a response to offending behaviour".

"We want to see dialogue initiated about justice values that are restorative rather than adversarial; and strategies to enhance community involvement in the justice process".

"And of course, we want to see debate about the best ways to decrease the number of Maori who are victimised by offending behaviour; and the most effective options to reduce the number of Maori who are arrested, convicted and imprisoned through the criminal justice system" ended Dr Sharples.

ENDS

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