The Crown has breached its Treaty of Waitangi obligations by failing to tackle the high rate of reoffending by Maori, and urgent action is needed, says the Waitangi Tribunal.
Despite being aware for several decades of the huge discrepancy between the rate of Maori and non-Maori re-offending, the Crown, through the Department of Corrections, has done little to address it, the tribunal found.
In fact, recent evidence suggests the gap is widening.
The tribunal’s Report on the Crown and Disproportionate Offending Rates, released today, said the failure to tackle the issue had created a “devastating situation for Maori, and for the nation”, and the matter must be addressed urgently.
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Corrections chief executive Ray Smith acknowledged the rate of Maori reoffending was unacceptable and said it was not something the department had shied away from.
Smith said gangs played a large part in the figures and if gang-related offending was taken out, the reoffending rate was similar to others.
Maori gang-affiliation was “a major driver for recidivism,” Smith said.
The report, by Judge Patrick Savage, said the Maori rates were “clear, disturbing and in need of urgent response”.
The 105-page report followed an urgent inquiry heard last year into the claim filed by retired Hawke’s Bay probation officer Tom Hemopo, who claimed the Crown had failed to make a long-term commitment to reducing the high rate of Maori reoffending relative to non-Maori.
While Maori make up just 15.4 per cent of the population, Maori men account for 50.4 per cent of the male prison population and Maori women account for 56.9 per cent of the female prison population.
For young Maori the figures are worse. Of prisoners aged under-20, Maori account for 65 per cent – up from 56 per cent a decade ago.
When it comes to reoffending figures for Maori are even worse. There is an 80 per cent likelihood a Maori prisoner will be re-convicted within five years of being released, compared to 67 per cent for non-Maori.
About 10,000 Maori children had a parent in prison, and this presented “a grave risk that the impacts of reoffending will reverberate through the generations, creating a destructive cycle”.
CROWN ‘CAN AND MUST DO MORE’
“There is a growing threat to Maori culture presented by the normalisation of Maori reoffending and reimprisonment rates,” the report stated.
The Crown told the tribunal that Corrections was doing all it could to tackle the problem. But the tribunal said it “can and must do more”.
While the department had set a target in 2012 of reducing the reoffending rate by 2017, it had no clear target for addressing Maori re-offending specifically. The target will be missed and latest figures show that “the department’s recent efforts appear to have coincided with increasingly disproportionate Maori and non-Maori reoffending rates”.
The tribunal said there was an “absence of a focused, measurable Maori-specific framework with a dedicated budget from which to co-ordinate the design and implementation of programmes, in partnership with Maori,” the report stated.
Failing to commit to a measurable strategy with a dedicated budget and target to reduce Maori reoffending was a significant and unjustified omission and by doing so the Crown had breached the treaty principles of active protection and equity.
The tribunal said Maori must have greater involvement in working with the department to address the disparity. It recommended that the Maori Advisory Board, created in 2015, be given a greater role in a “more balanced partnership arrangement” and that the board and the department work together in creating a new strategic vision and targets with an allocated budget to ensure success.
The tribunal also recommended that measurable targets be set, and that greater treaty awareness training be provided for staff.
GANG MEMBERSHIP A MAJOR FACTOR
Smith said it was important to remember that while 51 per cent of the prison population was Maori, this was equivalent to less than 1 per cent of the total Maori population.
Gang members re-offended at nearly twice the rate of non-gang offenders, Smith said, and “while reoffending amongst Maori reflect a range fo factors, the most important if these is the prevalence of gang membership among Maori”.
“There has never been such a high level of investment directed towards reducing reoffending, particularly for Maori,” Smith said.
He said Corrections was positioned “at the end of the justice sector pipeline” and the solution to Maori reoffending required “a sector wide response and engagement with iwi, which is why we are working closely with our justice sector partners”.
‘THIS WAS NEVER A TOM HEMOPO CLAIM’
Hemopo, 72, had been a probation officer for almost 30 years, during which time he claimed he had seen a decline in services and funding helping Maori reintegrate into their communities.
He was pleased the report had been completed so quickly and it showed how seriously the claim had been taken.
“For too many Maori prison is seen as normal, but it’s not normal. The Crown has to do more. The report is vindication that this is a serious issue,” he said.
“But it’s only the first step. Our Corrections systems need a fundamental rethink. There is very active interest in the claim by Maori and throughout the community and the Crown will need to follow the recommendations. It will need to consider whether what it is doing is safe, or whether it is actually causing more crime,” Hemopo said.
“The recommendations need to be implemented if we want to stop this chronic waste of human beings being locked up. Not just for my people, for everybody,” he said.
“One thing I keep telling people is that this was never a Tom Hemopo claim. This was a Maori claim that needed to be heard”.