A new report published by JustSpeak has drawn attention to the unfair treatment of Māori in the justice system.
According to the report, “Māori who have had no prior contact with the justice system have a greater risk of a police proceeding and are more likely to be charged by Police, than Europeans”. Māori are seven times more likely to be charged by police than Europeans, and Māori women in their late teens to early twenties are twice as likely to face court proceedings by police than European women.
The report comes at a time where prejudice towards Māori in the justice system is increasingly highlighted as an important social and human rights issue. Despite making up only 15% of the general population, Māori currently make up 51.8% of the incarcerated population. Māori women in particular constitute 64% of female prisoners.
Last year, the government announced widespread reform of the justice system in order to address these inequalities. Hōkai Rangi, a long-term plan to reduce Māori incarceration, involves incorporating te ao Māori into a number of aspects of the justice system. This has included action such as establishing kaupapa Māori units and programmes in every New Zealand prison, and ensuring whānau are more involved in the rehabilitation process.
“We have a real issue with systemic bias in our justice system. And it’s not just a question of socioeconomic factors because we know those also contribute to contact with the justice system, because we controlled for that,” says JustSpeak director Tania Sawicki Mead.
“We’re really hopeful that the government will take this research seriously, and use it to prioritise the policies and resources that communities need to feel that they can trust police and feel safe and supported in their community.”
However, deputy police commissioner Wally Haumaha has questioned the study’s findings, as it does not include whether crimes committed were low-level or high-level.
JustSpeak is calling for a number of policy changes to address prejudice in the justice system. The report suggests that “a fundamental shift in justice sector attitudes, values and practices is required for this structural bias to stop negatively affecting Māori”. Proposed policy solutions include more anti-bias training for police, more funding for Māori based diversion initiatives such as Te Pae Oranga and decriminalising low-level offences. Currently, they are also promoting two petitions to raise the youth justice age to 21, and to grant voting rights to prisoners.