18. Over-representation of Māori in prison

Questions from the Committee:

The Committee is concerned about the over-representation of Māori in New Zealand’s prisons and has asked for statistics; an explanation for this over-representation; an update on the implementation of the Māori Strategic Plan; and information about measures being taken to reduce the over-representation of Māori and Pacific people in prison, particularly Māori women. The Committee has asked whether New Zealand applied the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules).

Māori over-representation in the criminal justice system

  1. Māori are disproportionately represented in criminal justice statistics. The Government acknowledges that Māori over-representation is a persistent problem for which there are no easy solutions.
  2. Addressing the drivers of crime will reduce the number of people, including Māori, who offend. These drivers and how they are being addressed are discussed in Section 21 under Article 11.
  3. The New Zealand Police has also adopted a strategy to reduce Māori offending, reoffending and victimisation. The Turning of the Tide - a Whānau Ora Crime and Crash Prevention Strategy - has improved the way that police engage with and respond to, ethnic communities. As part of this strategy, the New Zealand Police has doubled the number of its ethnic staff. A prevention philosophy rather than an enforcement ethos is applied. Clear targets are outlined. By June 2015, the goal is to bring about a:

    a. five percent decrease in the number of first-time youth and adult offenders who are Māori

    b. 10 percent decrease in the number of repeat youth and adult offenders who are Māori

    c. 10 percent decrease in the number of repeat victims who are Māori

    d. 15 percent reduction in Police (non-traffic) apprehensions of Māori resolved by prosecution

    e. 10 percent decrease in the number of casualties in fatal and serious crashes who are Māori.

Māori in prison

  1. Table 2 provides data on the composition of the prison population disaggregated by sex, age, and ethnicity as at 31 March 2013. As at this date:

    a. Māori made up 50 percent of the prison population; by comparison, Māori comprise about 14 percent of the general New Zealand population

    b. women made up only six percent of the total prison population (504 out of a total population of 8,611), but Māori women made up 58 percent of that female prisoner population (291 out of a total female prison population of 504).

Table 2: Composition of the prison population disaggregated by sex, age and ethnicity as at 31 March 2013

Age Group Māori European Pacific Other Total
Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female
<20 231 17 87 3 50 1 9 3 401
20-29 1,527 117 773 44 410 7 124 8 3,010
30-39 1,097 81 636 50 282 6 108 8 2,268
40-49 803 49 601 43 143 8 67 4 1,718
50+ 383 27 636 23 95 3 45 2 1,214
Total 4,041 291 2,733 163 980 25 353 25 8,611

Source: Department of Corrections

  1. Department of Correction's analysis of criminal justice statistics indicates that a range of developmental and early-age risk factors create a pathway that increases the risk of (among other things) criminal involvement. These risk factors include:

    a. family structure, context, and processes (being born to young mothers, a lack of family stability, a family environment in which conflict and violence is common, and being exposed to harsh punishment)

    b. individual characteristics and experiences of the developing child and adolescent (factors affecting the child's neurological development, and psychological temperament)

    c. educational participation, engagement and achievement (school absence, early leaving age, and failure to achieve qualifications)

    d. the emergence of developmental disorders (childhood conduct disorder, early onset of antisocial behaviour, and use/abuse of alcohol and other substances).
  2. As a consequence of being disproportionately exposed to this range of risk factors relating to social, economic and family circumstances, Māori (particularly younger Māori males) are more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour.
  3. Research has been carried out on whether bias operates within the criminal justice system, such that any suspected or actual offending by Māori has harsher consequences for Māori (Ministry of Justice. 2009. Identifying and Responding to Bias in the Criminal Justice System: A Review of International and New Zealand Research (http://www.justice.govt.nz/publications/global-publications/i/identifying-and-responding-to-bias-in-the-criminal-justice-system-a-review-of-international-and-new-zealand-research/publication#-full-pdf-report). This report found that:

    a. research aiming to identify bias in the criminal justice system has been characterised by a host of methodological problems, and neither qualitative nor quantitative studies have delivered definitive answers on how and why differential outcomes are perpetuated

    b. research on possible bias has not led to the successful development or implementation of policies to address ethnic disproportionality in the criminal justice system.
  4. In 2007, the Department of Corrections examined criminal justice data and research findings and concluded that disproportionality relating to prosecutions, convictions sentencing and reconviction figures in New Zealand does exist, but that most of this is accounted for by known risk factors rather than by ethnicity (Department of Corrections. September 2007. Over-Representation of Maori in the Criminal Justice System: An Exploratory Report).

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Strategic plan for Maori in prison

  1. The Department of Corrections has introduced an overarching strategy Creating Lasting Change 2011–2015. This supersedes all previous strategic documents, including its Māori Strategic Plan 2008–2013. Creating Lasting Change recognises that success with Māori offenders is key.
  2. All Department of Corrections' initiatives are designed to work for Māori offenders. Internal evaluation of programmes reveals that, for Māori offenders who participate in the Department's rehabilitation programmes, outcomes are as good as are achieved for non-Māori offenders and in some cases better. Programmes and data on outcomes are discussed in Sections 19 and 21, also relating to Article 11.

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Measures to reduce the over-representation of Māori in prison

  1. Under the auspices of Creating Lasting Change:

    a. the Department of Corrections has begun revitalising its prison Māori Focus Units (MFUs), lifting the achievement level to an elite standard nationwide. The units address the needs of offenders using cultural values and principles

    b. the number of credits toward national qualifications being earned by Māori offenders has continued to increase, from 30,000 in 2009 to 65,000 in 2012

    c. all prison health centres are developing a Māori Health plan that recognises the higher health needs of Māori.
  2. Addressing the drivers of crime (discussed in Section 21 under Article 11) will take some time. In the meantime, the Department of Corrections has implemented a wide range of strategies and interventions to reduce re-offending by Māori. Some of the most notable are:

    a. the establishment of a Māori Services team in January 2009 heavily focussed on strengthening reintegration opportunities for Maori offenders

    b. the operation of MFU's in five male prisons which use tikanga Māori concepts (resolving disputes face-to-face) to motivate and rehabilitate Māori prisoners

    c. delivery of tikanga Māori programmes in most prisons to improve the willingness and motivation of prisoners to address their offending behaviour

    d. Māori Therapeutic Programmes operating in all MFU's using cognitive behavioural therapy tailored with tikanga Maori to address offending behaviour and risks

    e. whānau liaison workers in each MFU who establish links between prisoners and their whānau (family), hapu (sub tribe), and iwi (tribe) prior to release from prison

    f. Kaitiaki (guardians) are Māori groups from areas in which the four newest prisons have been established. Kaitiaki are actively involved in supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of Māori prisoners

    g. a pilot of specialist Māori cultural assessments in two male prisons. This assessment identifies the cultural needs and strengths of Māori offenders.
  3. Section 19 on rehabilitation and reintegration provides additional information.

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Women prisoners and the United Nations Rules (the Bangkok Rules)

  1. While New Zealand has not ratified the Bangkok Rules, women offenders are managed in a manner that takes into consideration their specific needs and family circumstances. Male and female prisoners are separated, with women housed in three women's prisons across New Zealand. Staff at women's prisons can attend specific training for working with and understanding female offenders, and there is separate training available for managing female prisoners.
  2. Examples of programmes specifically designed for women offenders include:
    • Kōwhiritanga - a rehabilitation programme based on Māori values available for female offenders in prison and in the community; this has been specifically designed for female offenders to address their re-offending risk factors risks.

      The programme takes into account how women relate to others and form attachments, and addresses additional factors linked to the offences that the women have committed such as abuse, victimisation, and substance abuse.
    • Mothers with Babies units - these are separate units within prisons for the accommodation of mothers and their children aged up to nine months or two years (depending on the prison). The units provide mothers and their babies with a supportive environment. They aim to reduce the unintended negative impacts that maternal imprisonment (particularly enforced separation) has on children, in order to improve future outcomes for those children.
  3. Pregnant women in prison have access to additional resources and support, such as antenatal and parenting programmes, the involvement of a support person, and suitable clothing for mother and baby.