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Waitangi Tribunal Claim Grants Urgent Hearing

WAITANGI TRIBUNAL CLAIM GRANTS URGENT HEARING
INTO CLAIM AGAINST CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT

The Waitangi Tribunal has granted an urgent hearing into a claim alleging Crown failures to reduce the number of Māori in prison and high reoffending rates.

The claim was filed by Tom Hemopo, a retired probation officer, on behalf of himself and his iwi and targets the Department of Corrections which has failed to reduce high rates of reoffending by Māori. The “Corrections Claim” has the support of two Hawkes Bay iwi - Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated and Ngāti Pāhauwera Development Trust. It also has the support of the Tākitimu District Māori Council.

The claim alleges that the Crown has failed to make a high level commitment to improve the disproportionate number of Māori in prison. Māori comprise 15% of the population, but make up the highest percentage of all convictions. Half of all men and 63% of all women in prison are Māori. Despite Corrections dealing with high numbers of Māori offenders, the reoffending rates for the group are significantly higher than for any other ethnicity. A 2009 Corrections report found that five years after release from prison, 77% of Māori offenders were reconvicted, and 58% were back in prison. In 2013 Corrections let its Māori Strategic Plan lapse without any consultation with Māori and since then it has had no strategy to address Māori reoffending.

In granting the application for an urgent hearing Judge Savage, the Deputy Chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal, stated:

“The offending and reoffending figures in the evidence are undisputed, stark and cause for considerable concern. It is not as though those figures are new. Māori offending and reoffending rates have been well known for a very long time.

If the applicant is right, and I express no view on that, then many young Māori men and women are in the Corrections system or will enter it tomorrow, next month or next year. If the applicant is correct then for those people and their family’s there is imminent and perhaps irreversible prejudice.”

Tom Hemopo (Ngāti Maniapoto, Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu) is a former probation officer who worked for Corrections for 25 years before retiring in 2011. Tom Hemopo says: “I asked the Tribunal to consider this claim urgently because too many Māori are suffering right now while the Crown ignores its failure to reduce the numbers of Māori in prison and reoffending on release. I am grateful to the Waitangi Tribunal for recognising the seriousness of the issues and hope that the hearing of this claim will lead to the Crown making the changes that are so long overdue.”

A hearing to consider the claim will be held in the middle of 2016. The claim asks the Tribunal to make findings that the Crown has breached the principles of the Treaty, and to recommend that the Crown make immediate changes to address the high reoffending rates of Māori and high numbers of Māori in prison.

Tom Hemopo is represented by his lawyers, Braithwaite & Smail Limited and Barrister Peter Andrew.

The Corrections Claim key statistics:

• Claimant Tom Hemopo, retired probation officer

• Supported by two iwi groups, Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated and Ngāti Pāhauwera Development Trust

• Statistics New Zealand Tatauranga Aotearoa records 4.2 million people in New Zealand at the 2013 census and just under 669,000 or 15.8% as Māori by descent

• Latest Department of Corrections statistics on the number of people in prison in December 2014 records 50.8% were Māori

• Latest Statistics New Zealand Tatauranga Aotearoa data records that in the year ending 31 December 2014, 63% of all female prisoners were Māori

• More Māori have been sentenced to imprisonment than any other ethnicity every year since 1981

• New Zealand has the seventh highest imprisonment rate of 34 OECD countries, after the United States of America, Chile, Estonia, Israel, Poland and Mexico

• The percentage of Māori convicted of offences was at its worst in 2014. For the first time since 1980, Māori made up a greater percentage of all convictions than Europeans, 38.7% Māori compared to 38.3% European

• The Department of Corrections’ latest two yearly Offender Population Report 2013 said:

Māori over-representation has been a feature of the prisoner population for several decades. The proportion of all prison-sentenced offenders who are Māori increased from 44 percent on December 31, 1983 to 50 percent on December 31, 2013.

• The Department of Corrections’ Recidivism Index in its Annual Reports records:

o reoffending rates after one and two years are significantly worse across the board for Māori than for any other group

o for Māori leaving prison, 64.4% will be reconvicted and 41.2% will be back in prison within two years. These rates have remained relatively static since 2000. Europeans are the ethnicity with the next highest rates, at only 53.4% and 31.8% respectively

o A 2009 Department of Corrections report recorded that five years after release from prison, 77% of Māori offenders were reconvicted and 58% were back in prison

o For Māori beginning a community sentence, 44.7% will be reconvicted and 8.6% will be imprisoned within 2 years. This shows some improvement since 2000 but these are still the highest rates of any ethnicity. Europeans are the ethnicity with the next highest rates, at only 36.5% and 5.5% respectively

o A 2009 Department of Corrections report recorded that five years after beginning a community sentence, 71% of Māori offenders were reconvicted and 32% were in prison

ENDS

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