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Gains in Criminal Justice Sector Leave Māori Behind


14 February 2013
For immediate release

State of the Nation: Gains in Criminal Justice Sector Leave Māori Behind

The Salvation Army’s report on the current state of New Zealand’s social policy, ‘She’ll be Right – A State of the Nation Report’, suggests that gains in the criminal justice sector continue to leave Māori behind.

While the report includes some positive findings such as declining rates of crime, imprisonment, and recidivism, it also shows significant disparity between Māori and non-Māori in criminal justice statistics, that our prison population is 11 percent higher than five years ago, and poor performance in traditional risk factors for criminal activity such as child poverty, education, housing, and unemployment.

JustSpeak is particularly concerned with the disparity between Māori and non-Māori in criminal justice statistics. The Report found that “not only were Māori youth aged 14 to 16 years three times more likely than non-Māori youth to be apprehended for a criminal offence, but they were also more likely to be prosecuted by the Police for their offending … not only has this trend continued during 2011/12 but it may be getting worse.” This is coupled with the disproportionate incarceration of Māori in New Zealand prisons.

However, importantly, this report also draws our attention to the corresponding disparity between Māori and non-Māori in terms of access to early childhood education, rates of unemployment and other measures of social inequality.

JustSpeak released a paper last year demanding that this disparity be addressed with some urgency, innovation and yet with a long-term commitment to meaningful change in the way Māori experience the criminal justice system.

While the Salvation Army’s Report states that the positive findings reflect a shift away from a wholly punitive ‘tough on crime’ approach in the political climate and public discourse, if gains in policing, justice, sentencing and corrections policy are to be maintained it is clear that we need to address the disparity experienced by many New Zealanders.

The reported declining rates of teen pregnancy are positive in terms of sustainably reducing offending because maternal age and education are significant offending risk factors. However, the fact is that 20 per cent of New Zealand children experience poverty, violence against children has increased by 11 per cent, and there remain significant issues in terms of housing, unemployment, and alcohol — and each of these things are barriers to sustainably reducing offending.

Increased use of community-based sentences and a shift away from incarceration toward rehabilitation and reintegration should be encouraged. The Report points to the significant under-reporting of crime, which may reflect the fact that much crime occurs within families and communities, or in circumstances where the current criminal justice system does not provide meaningful resolution. JustSpeak believes this highlights a need for greater use of alternative justice processes, such as restorative justice conferences and drug courts.

Though the Salvation Army’s report shows promising changes to offending and incarceration statistics, policing and sentencing practices, and in public attitudes towards criminal justice, the disparity between Māori and non-Māori undermines New Zealanders’ highly-prized sense of fairness. Until we address wider social deprivation we cannot hope to achieve sustainable reductions in offending in Aotearoa.

ENDS

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