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Proposed Bail Laws will Increase Racial Disparity

Proposed Bail Laws will Increase Racial Disparity

“Current proposals to tighten the bail laws, reverse the burden of proof, and remove legal  protection for  young, will further widen the gap between the way in which Maori and non-Maori are treated within the criminal justice system” said Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment.”

Maori are twice more likely to be remanded in custody than non-Maori, often when charged with the same crime.  The gap between the two has steadily widened since 1998.[1]  Māori account for the largest proportion of offenders remanded in custody and that number has increased more rapidly than other ethnic groups.”

 “The usual response from responsible Ministers is that Maori are disproportionately represented, because they commit more crime; but our research shows that is not the whole picture.” 

“Across all offending Māori are 1.96 times more likely than Europeans to be remanded in custody.[2]   In relation to the two major groupings of offences addressed in the proposed Bail Bill, Serious Class A Drug Offences and Serious Violent and Sexual Offences,  it might be expected that the seriousness of the offences would result in a narrowing of the gap.  This does occur in relation to Class A offences.   Māori are 1.31 times more likely than Europeans to be remanded in custody at some time.[3].   However, there is little impact in relation to serious violent offences with Māori 1.87 times more likely than Europeans to be remanded in custody at some time.[4]  In other words, Māori who appear before the Court on serious violence and sexual offences are almost twice more likely to be remanded in custody than Europeans charged with the same offence.   

“We have anecdotal evidence as to likely contributing factors.  First, Maori offenders often cannot afford quality legal representation.  The recent tightening of legal aid eligibility, has meant that more Maori represent themselves in Court, and do it very badly.  If they are granted bail, the conditions are often unrealistic, resulting in an increased likelihood that they will be charged with a breach of bail conditions, and then be remanded in custody.  Second, we are told that the Police are more likely to oppose bail, where an offender is unrepresented.  But that is not the whole picture.  It is difficult not to conclude that some of this disparity is influenced by skin pigmentation.” 

“The Bail Amendment Bill is yet another example of  punitive law being introduced, without any effort to assess its likely effect,  both intended and unintended. This lack of evaluation of the effects of sentencing policy on crime, contributes to the growth of racial disparity within the criminal justice system.”  

“If the government is committed to lowering Maori over-representation in the criminal justice system, it has to burrow underneath the statistics, to uncover their truth, and address it.  A ‘Head in the Sand’ response  will not make this issue go away.” 

Kim Workman


Rethinking Crime and Punishment


[1] http://www.corrections.govt.nz/resources/offender-volumes-report/offender_volumes_report_2011/5_prison_remand_snapshots.html
[2] This figure is statistically significant (95% CI 1.929 – 1999).
[3] This figure is statistically significant (95% CI 1.106 – 1.555)
[4] This figure is statistically significant (95% CI 1.799 – 1.952).

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