In 2014/15, although 194 New Zealanders out of every 100,000 were imprisoned, government statistics for the Māori community put this figure at 700 for every 100,000.
Dean Rutherford, acting general manager of sector strategy at the New Zealand Ministry of Justice said this problem extends further than just those in jail.
“For many years Māori have been and continue to be over-represented at each stage of the justice system, not only as offenders, but also as victims,” he told NZ Lawyer.
Additionally while there has been a significant reduction in recorded crime for all ethnic groups over the past five years, these reductions have not been as large for Māori when compared to non-Māori. This means the proportion of Māori passing through the justice system has increased, he added.
“There are many reasons why Māori continue to be over-represented in the criminal justice system, including deprivation, age, and educational attainment,” Rutherford said.
Tackling this issue is seen as a key challenge by many in the justice sector including Ministers, he added, highlighting a number of targeted initiatives which aim at addressing and reducing this over-representation. Over the past year, the main components of this response have been:
A coordinated, purposeful approach to delivering criminal justice services to Māori
Engagement with iwi and Māori communities to identify those in need of justice services
Wider capabilities for justice agencies to reduce Māori offending, victimisation and harm
Cooperation with the social sector to improve whānau wellbeing and targeting of services
Some examples of this include iwi panels which have been trialled by the New Zealand Police and the Department of Corrections in Manakau, Gisborne and the Hutt Valley since mid-2014.
“Police exercise their charging discretion to refer adults who have committed low-level offences to these panels. Panels focus on repairing harm caused by the offence, using a problem-solving approach to address factors that contribute to offending,” Rutherford said.
This can include referring offenders to education/training programs or getting them to commit to a good behaviour bond. The panels also aim to build whanaungatanga or kinship, he added.
“Recently, we’ve extended these three iwi panels’ operations to June 2017. We have also carried out an evaluation of the implementation of iwi panels, which will be released in the coming months.”
Other initiatives led or assisted by the Ministry of Justice include:
Rangatahi Courts: a judicial-led program aimed at reducing reoffending by Māori youth
Matariki Court: a specialist court which offers community and cultural support and examines the individual’s background to prevent reoffending
Youth Crime Action Plan: a 10-year plan to support communities, improve youth justice processes and address youth crime issues
“In addition, the Government has also appointed a Chief Victims Advisor to Government. An area of focus for Dr Kim McGregor’s work will be addressing the high rates of Māori victimisation, particularly among Māori women,” Rutherford said.