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Racism in Youth Justice System

Rethinking Urges Balanced Approach to Racism in Youth Justice System

Date : 9th November 2014

Kim Workman, spokesperson for Rethinking Crime and Punishment, is urging Ministers of the Crown and government officials to take a balanced response to the increasing Maori over-representation within the youth justice system. In its latest blog, “Does Racism Exist Within the Youth Justice System – Banging Ministerial Heads Together”’target="_blank">http://blog.rethinking.org.nz/2014/11/does-institutional-racism-exist-within.html, Rethinking responds to a recent disclosure that while the number of young people appearing before the Youth Court has dropped to a 20 year low, the percentage of Maori youth appearing before the Youth Court has risen from 48% to 56% in the last six years.

Kim Workman, says that there are three approaches which are unhelpful, and are likely to aggravate the situation.

“The first is to suggest that institutional racism is the sole reason for Maori over-representation. All that does is feed a community backlash. Recent research shows that responses of that kind fuel public fear.”

“The second and equally unhelpful approach is to deny that racism exists in the justice system. That is disingenuous. Ask most Maori whanau, including those that are law abiding, and they will regale you with stories of their own experience.”

The third unhelpful approach is to assume that the problem primarily rests with the Police. While the Police are the public face of the justice system, the issue extends well beyond them. In reality, the Police are more aware than most other justice agencies of racism, and are having a good go at dealing with it.

Instead we need to start asking some tough questions, and comparing whether Maori and non-Maori receive the same treatment at the hands of the system, when they commit similar crimes of similar seriousness, and with similar criminal histories. Such questions mightinclude;

• Do Maori receive diversion and alternative dispositions at the same rate as non-Maori? If not, why?

• Do Maori have access to legal aid and engage legal advisers, at the same rate as non-Maori?

• Do Maori plead guilty as often as non-Maori? If there is a difference, how can that be explained?

• Are Maori bailed on remand at the same rate as non-Maori? If not, why?

• Is there any difference between Maori and non-Maori in regard to prison referrals for rehabilitation and treatment?

• To what extent do justice sector agencies encourage external research organisations to conduct research on offending issues relating to Maori?

• Is there any ethnic differential in the Parole Board’s response to granting parole?

• How much support is given to ‘by Maori for Maori ‘ therapeutic programmes and support services. Has that changed over the last decade?

“There are a myriad other questions that need to be asked and answered”says Kim Workman. “In the absence of empirical research, we will continue to have public cat fights, without getting to the heart of the issue.”

Rethinking is calling on the Iwi Leader’s Forum, the Maori Council, the Human Rights Commission, and Maori members of parliament, to support a wide ranging review of the issue. “


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