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Former Corrections officer wants prisoner voting ban end


Former Department of Corrections officer wants the prisoner voting ban scrapped

Tom Hemopo, kaumātua and retired probation officer, was the applicant who filed for an urgent hearing in 2015 claiming that the Crown, through its Department of Corrections breached its’ Treaty of Waitangi obligations by failing to tackle the high rate of reoffending by Māori and that the Crown has done little to address it.

The Waitangi Tribunal released its report Tū Mai Te Rangi - Report on the Crown and Disproportionate Reoffending Rates in April 2017. The evidence highlighted that the gap is widening and 50.7% of the prison population is Māori. The incarceration rates have triggered national and international scrutiny as Minister Andrew Little presented at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this year, saying that the Treaty had been breached, leaving Māori "strangers in their own land".

"The impacts of colonisation continue to be felt today through entrenched structural racism and poorer outcomes for Māori," Little said in prepared notes.

"If we are to address the seemingly intractable problems facing some Māori, like the disproportionate representation of Māori in state care and our prisons, then we need to work constructively with Māori to find solutions." Minister Little called the justice system "broken".

"We have one of the highest incarceration rates per capita in the world, and it has risen in recent years. Māori are disproportionately represented at every stage of our criminal justice system, both as offenders and victims.”

Mr Hemopo has now filed evidence in the Prisoner’s Voting Rights Claim Inquiry which is an urgent inquiry granted by the Waitangi Tribunal on the 17 December 2018. Mr Hemopo states he has joined the inquiry because he believes in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the fundamental rights of all Māori to exercise their tino rangatiratanga whether they are incarcerated or not, and that includes the right to participate in the Māori electoral roll.

“In all my years of working within the system as a senior Probation Officer, all the prisoners I have come to know are good people who have made bad choices in life influenced by their environments, backgrounds and choices. Voting is not a privilege or a benefit while in prison, it is a fundamental human right” says Mr Hemopo. “It’s simple to me. Change the legislation”.

Minister Little has stated that he personally disagreed with the ban but the government as a whole had yet to take a position. “It’s not much of a priority,” he stated.


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