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Waitangi Report on Disproportionate Re-offending

Tū Mai te Rangi: Waitangi Report on Disproportionate Re-offending

In July 2016 the Waitangi Tribunal conducted an urgent hearing into the disproportionate, decades-long, and increasing Māori over representation in the nation’s prisons. This normalisation of Māori re-offending and imprisonment rates is a growing threat to Māori culture, and has devastating consequences not only for Māori whānau, hapū and iwi, but for the nation as whole.

Yesterday, the tribunal released its findings and has found that ongoing Māori re-imprisonment and re-offending has serious intergenerational impact that is impeding the ability of Māori communities, across the country, to sustain their well-being, mana and culture. With an estimated 10,000 Māori children affected by a parent in prison, the effects are multigenerational and are creating destructive and repetitive cycles in our whānau and communities.

The Tribunal was presented with the case that the Crown, through the Department of Corrections, has a Treaty responsibility to reduce Māori re-offending in order to reduce the current inequities between Māori and non-Māori re-offending rates, and in their report the Tribunal has concluded that the Crown “can and must do more”.

The Tribunal acknowledged the efforts, both past and present, of the Crown through the Department of Corrections. However, the report notes that the Crown is not sufficiently prioritising the active protection of Māori interests, or the achievement of equitable outcomes between Māori and non-Māori. They have recommended that there should now be a “long-term, targeted, and measurable strategic commitment to coordinate Department programmes and resources in order to substantially reduce Māori reoffending rates.” The Tribunal found the Crown in breach of the principle of active protection and of the principle of equity and while they have not found the Crown to be in breach of the principle of partnership, they noted this could be at risk if the Crown does not act on its stated commitment to engage with iwi and hapū.

The Tribunal further stated that if the Department is to seriously make an impact on Māori reoffending rates, their actions going forward need to be a top priority and not simply included within a general goal. Included in the Tribunal recommendations were; that the Department of Corrections Māori Advisory Board should have more influence in designing rehabilitative programmes; that there should be a renewed (and appropriately budgeted) strategic focus and commitment to measureable, data-driven targets for reducing reoffending; and that there should be appropriate resourcing for ongoing advice and training for Department of Corrections staff.

Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga’s Co-Director Associate Professor Tracey McIntosh, who appeared at the July hearing as an expert witness supporting the claimant, says; “We applaud the Tribunal for hearing this issue under urgency. The intergenerational reach of repeated incarceration is significant and the impact to our whānau and to our broader communities is devastating.

This issue can no longer be ignored or normalised; the prison is not our place and it should not be the destiny of our people. It is time for a fundamental review of the Corrections system and the programmes it offers. We should not expect solely cultural solutions to structural problems, but we know that solutions that take cultural expression and aspirations seriously are likely to succeed where initiatives that do not are likely to fail. It is time for the Crown to address the inequality that exists and to draw on Māori knowledge, experience and expertise to support this kaupapa.

The longer term goal should be towards decarceration. This will need an all of society approach to address structural issues of poverty and the social transfer of inequality as well as addressing racism in its covert and overt forms. All forms of social harm need to be addressed to allow communities to recover and flourish. This is an area where we should take global leadership and where Māori can determine the future well-being of the nation.”


Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga (NPM) is a Centre of Research Excellence hosted at the University of Auckland comprising 21 research partners and conducting research of relevance to Māori communities. Our vision is Māori leading New Zealand into the future. NPM research realises Māori aspirations for positive engagement in national life, enhances our excellence in Indigenous scholarship and provides solutions to major challenges facing humanity in local and global settings. Visit www.maramatanga.ac.nz

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