Waitangi Tribunal: Crown has breached Treaty obligations on Māori reoffending

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The Waitangi Tribunal has found the Crown has breached its Treaty obligations by failing to prioritise the reduction of Māori reoffending relative to non-Māori.

An urgent inquiry was conducted in 2016 in response to retired senior probation officer Tom Hemopo's claim that the Crown had failed to make a long-term commitment to reduce the high rates of Māori reoffending. The claim was brought on behalf of himself and his iwi, Ngāti Maniapoto, Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu. Māori make up about 15% of the national population but more than 50% of the prison population.

The report, Tū Mai te Rangi! Report on the Crown and Disproportionate Reoffending Rates, is the outcome of the inquiry. The Tribunal examined activities of the Department of Corrections and its recently established Māori Advisory Board. For more information about the claim and inquiry see the Ministry of Justice Waitangi Tribunal webpage.

Findings from the report

The Tribunal found that the situation is urgent and "... the difference between Māori and non-Māori reoffending rates is substantial, undisputed and contributes to the disproportionate number of Māori in prison." It concluded that the Crown, through the Department of Corrections, is not prioritising the reduction of Māori reoffending. This was evidenced by the fact that the Department has no specific plan or strategy to reduce Māori reoffending, no specific target to reducing Māori reoffending and no specific budget to meet this need.

The Department has a general target of reducing overall reoffending by 25% by 2017. However, the Tribunal reported that at June 2016, the non-Māori reoffending rate had reduced by 6.4% but the Māori reoffending rate had reduced by only 0.5%, widening the gap.

In conclusion the Tribunal stated:

"We have therefore found that the Crown has breached the principle of active protection by not sufficiently prioritising the protection of Māori interests in the context of persistently disproportionate Māori reoffending rates.

... We have also found that the Crown has breached the principle of equity by not sufficiently prioritising the reduction of Māori reoffending rates.

... We have found that the Crown has not, at this point, breached the principle of partnership. ... We have found, however, that if the Crown does not live up to its stated commitment to develop these partnerships, it risks breaching its partnership obligations."

The Tribunal made the following recommendations:

  • Revise the Māori Advisory Board’s terms of reference to enhance their influence
  • Design and implement a revised strategy
  • Set and commit to a measurable Māori-specific target for reducing Māori reoffending rates
  • Include a dedicated budget
  • Provide appropriate resourcing for senior level Department of Corrections staff to receive advice and training in incorporating mātauranga Māori and the Crown’s Treaty obligations into the Department’s high level practice and operations
  • Amend the Corrections Act 2004 to state the Crown’s relevant Treaty obligations to Māori as addressed in this report.

Initial Government response to the inquiry - the Safer Communities package

Just prior to finalising the report, the Crown submitted a memorandum to the inquiry highlighting actions that the Crown has taken to address Māori reoffending, particularly the $503 million Safer Communities package announced in February 2017. The findings from the inquiry related to this memorandum are included as an addendum to the report.

The inquiry noted the bulk of the new funding is for Police. They stated their concerns originally raised in the report remained, specifically:

  • The wording, method of measurement and equity of the target set in the Safer Communities package of reducing Māori reoffending by 25% by 2025 is unclear.
  • There is no evidence yet of collaboration with the Commissioner of Police's Māori Focus Forum to develop a Māori focused sector strategy.
  • A Justice Sector strategy would not adequately address the need for a strategy specific to the Department of Corrections. This is essential given the statutory obligations of the Department for addressing reoffending and the need to examine the effectiveness of existing Department programmes.
  • There is a lack of evidence of consultation with Māori in the development of the Safer Communities package and the Crown memorandum did not discuss engagement with the Department of Correction's Māori Advisory Board.

The inquiry stated their original findings and recommendations would remain despite the introduction of the Safer Communities package.

Government funding to address Māori reoffending

The day before the release of the Waitangi Tribunal report, Police Minister Paula Bennett and Justice Minister Amy Adams announced $10 million for initiatives to improve Māori justice outcomes. The first initiative will fund a hub providing four new whānau-centred justice services. The services were co-designed by the justice sector and Christchurch-based Ngā Maata Waka and include a program to prevent young Māori from offending, intensive mentoring for young people who have offended, support for women in prison and support for young people to obtain driver licences.

Responses to the Waitangi Tribunal's report

Radio NZ reported that Tom Hemopo, who filed the claim, welcomed the report saying "I am more happy for our people." He said "Maybe there is a glimmer of hope now that things will actually happen and the system will get better."

Ngāti Kahungunu was also a co-claimant in a previous claim 10 years ago. The Hawke's Bay Today reported that Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana said "At that time [of the first claim] there was a disproportionate amount of Maori going through the Corrections system, they were getting longer sentences and less chance of parole, and programmes designed for them were ineffective." He went on to say "Ten years later things had got worse - it's frustrating we had to go back to the tribunal again to tell them things were no better."

Ray Smith, Chief Executive of Corrections has responded to the report saying the Tribunal was fair and balanced and has provided recommendations which are "very doable." Radio NZ reported that Ray Smith also said "I am open to any ideas that can make a difference. I don't feel in the slightest defensive about this. ... There is a plan of response to Māori reoffending but it is not as in depth as it should be." 

Māori Television reported that Minister of Corrections Louise Upston said, "It's a really constructive report and I think the recommendations in there are practical." Māori TV also reported that the Minister is waiting for a formal report from the chief executive before taking action regarding the recommendations.

Ngā Pae o Te Maramatanga Co-Director Tracey McIntosh welcomed the report however emphasised that prisons are not the solution. Professor McIntosh called for an absolute objective around decarceration, including providing educational and employment opportunities and ways to support flourishing Māori.

Māori lawyer Moana Jackson said prisons do not work for Māori or non-Māori. He expressed scepticism as to whether the Department of Corrections will take action in response to the report.

JustSpeak Chair Julia Whaipooti welcomed the report but challenged the Government to take action saying:

"this report confirms a bleak picture within our justice system for Māori. But it also sets out a blueprint for change. That is a gift for any Government serious about changing this bleak picture. If we want to substantively address the structural problems in our system then we need to do more than give programmes Māori names and allocate more than relatively small amounts of money without any focused strategy."

Family violence and criminal offending

According to the Government's Better Public Services data, a significant proportion of violent offences are committed within dwellings. The Government is using violent offences in public dwellings as a proxy measure for family violence. The data is not broken down by ethnicity.

For research and comment on policing and criminal justice responses to family violence, see the NZFVC news story, Additional Government funding for police, courts and corrections (February 2017).

Selected media

More Māori officers needed for Māori prisoners, Māori Television, 30.05.2017

Billion dollar bail laws are moral and fiscal failure, Press Release: Green Party, Scoop, 27.04.2017

The fear of admitting our Prison and Justice system is racist, Waatea News, 18.04.2017

Bi-partisan approach needed to reduce prisoner numbers - Davis, Radio NZ, 17.04.2017

New Zealand’s justice system is 'inherently racist' – Māori lawyer Moana Jackson, One News, 16.04.217

Waitangi Tribunal’s report on Corrections, Green Party: David Clendon, 15.04.2017

Treaty overlooked in Corrections non-strategy, Interview with Gilbert Taurua, principal adviser at the New Zealand Drug Foundation, Waatea News, 12.04.2017

The Soap Box: More jail time for Maori offenders isn't working, Opinion: Barry Soper, Newstalk ZB, 12.04.2017

Waitangi Report on Disproportionate Re-offending, Press Release: Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, Scoop, 12.04.2017

Allow gang affiliate volunteers in prisons - Maori Party, Radio NZ, 12.04.2017

No sign of improving Maori prison rates - Drug Foundation, Newstalk ZB, 12.04.2017

Twenty additional police bases to go 24/7, Press release: NZ Government, 12.04.2017

More Police for every district, Press release: NZ Government, 12.04.2017

Waitangi Tribunal report on prisons “does not go far enough”, Press Release: No Pride in Prisons, 12.04.2017

Corrections not doing enough to reduce Maori reoffending: Tribunal, Newstalk ZB, 11.04.2017

Tribunal rules failure to halt Maori reoffending is a Waitangi Treaty breach, NZ Herald, 11.04.2017

Fraud and abuse cases gathering dust, family violence reports soaring: Why police pushed for more numbers, Stuff, 10.04.2017