The Crown is in breach of its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, the Waitangi Tribunal said in a new report.
The Crown, through the Department of Corrections, has done little to address the massive gap between Māori and non-Māori reoffending, despite knowing of the problem for decades, the tribunal said. The disparity is fuelling the high ratio of Māori in prison, as they make up half of the country’s prisoners despite being only 15% of the national population.
“We have concluded that the situation is urgent and, for the Crown to be acting consistently with its obligation actively to protect Māori interests and to be acting equitably, it must be giving urgent priority to this issue in clear and convincing ways,” the tribunal wrote.
It said that corrections has “no specific plan or strategy to reduce Māori reoffending, no specific target to reduce Māori reoffending, an no specific budget to meet this end.” This is despite the Justice Department announcing in February that it aims to reduce Māori reoffending.
The report was made after the tribunal – which consisted of Judge Patrick Savage, Bill Wilson QC, Tania Simpson, and Professor Derek Lardelli –heard the claim filed by retired probation officer Tom Hemopo last year.
The release of the report comes just as the government pledged millions to support programs to improve Māori justice outcomes. Police Minister Paula Bennett and Justice Minister Amy Adams said that the government has earmarked $10m for the drive, which includes establishing a services hub to tackle offending and reoffending.
“It is well known that Māori are overrepresented at every stage in the criminal justice system. We’re not prepared to accept that continuing,” Bennett said.
“Tackling this issue is a priority for the justice sector, which is why we have set aside $10m of the Justice Sector Fund for initiatives that will improve outcomes for Māori in the justice system,” Adams said.
The services hub is being allotted $4.73m to fund four whānau-centred justice services. The services are co-designed by the justice sector and Ngā Maata Waka, a Christchurch-based urban Māori organisation.
The fund will also support a program to prevent at-risk young Māori from offending by helping them build positive whānau relationships. The government is also setting up programs for intensive mentoring for young people who have offended.
Call for the establishment of a Māori Whānau Court
Restorative justice working for most victims