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Rethinking Calls For Review Into Ethnic Bias Within Police

Rethinking Calls For Review Into Ethnic Bias Within Police And Criminal Justice System

“It is no longer sufficient for Police to continue to deny Institutional Bias toward Maori” says Kim Workman, Spokesperson for Rethinking Crime and Punishment. “The Police should conduct a systematic review into their institutional practise and policy. Better still, the Justice Sector Leadership Board or the Race Relations Commissioner should initiate a sector wide review.”

He was commenting on the Minister of Police’s response to a question in the House, in which the she strongly disagreed that Māori are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system because of institutional bias. She said that people are prosecuted because they have committed a crime.

“The Minister has missed the point. The Justspeak research showed that when Maori are apprehended for a crime, the Police are more likely to prosecute the offender if they are Maori. One of the better know pieces of research into this issue, was that carried out by the prominent researcher, Professor David Fergusson in 2003. A study of cannabis users in Christchurch found that when the Police caught someone in possession of cannabis, they could exercise discretion about whether or not to prosecute the offender. Maori users were three times more likely to be prosecuted than non-Maori users.”

“There have been at least 15 pieces of research into this issue since 1998, all pointing toward ethnic bias within the Police and the wider criminal justice system. In the face of that kind of evidence, it is no longer possible to publicly deny that it exists, without first carrying out a full investigation into institutional policies and practises within the criminal justice system.”

“Areas of investigation for the Police might include ethnic profiling, traffic stop procedures, offender eligibility for diversion and pre-charge warnings, Police opposition to bail, and judicial decisions to remand offenders in custody. Research may well establish that if there is an institutional bias, it is less to do with personal racism, and more to do with institutional policies and practises which disadvantage Maori.”

“In its recent report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the government highlighted a range of programmes and achievements which demonstrated a high level of cultural responsiveness to Māori, but ignored the Committee’s earlier request to report on the level of structural discrimination within the criminal justice system. We acknowledge the efforts made by the Police and others to develop positive relationships with Maori. The issue of structural discrimination however, is a separate issue which for over 30 years has been the “elephant in the room”.

“Now is the time to act on the evidence. A sector wide investigation is called for.”

Kim Workman
Rethinking Crime and Punishment


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