Let’s return to the number of Maori in prison: is our system racist?

The new Minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell is calling for a review of the justice system as young Maori become increasingly over represented in youth crime statistics.

Fewer young offenders are fronting the judge but young Maori are making up more of those who do pass through the justice system.

Latest Ministry of Justice figures show the number of children and young people charged in Youth Court is the lowest in 20 years. However, as the number drops, the figures show the proportion of young Maori compared with non-Maori is rising.

Six years ago, Maori represented 48 per cent of youths facing charges in the Youth Court. The latest figures reveal that has jumped to 57 per cent.

While the Government lauds the decrease in youth crime, Flavell, who is also co-leader of the Maori Party, said the New Zealand justice system continued to be stacked against young Maori.

By the time they’re in our prisons, many, many steps along the way have gone wrong. ?Maori are over represented in all the wrong statistics. ?So where is the source of the trouble? ? It’s hard to say the justice system is racist when the line of Maori queuing to be ‘clients’ is outside of this system. ?

Flavell said the failure to address institutional racism was a factor in the increasing rate of representation of young Maori in the justice system.

“Maori are four to five times more likely to be apprehended, prosecuted and convicted than non-Maori counterparts, and in the case of Maori aged between 10 and 13 this is six times more likely. How can we ignore the existence of institutional racism in the justice system in the face of facts like these?”

In April, the United Nations said the New Zealand justice system “must be a reviewed” after finding it was biased against Maori.

Former Associate Justice Minister Chester Borrows said the Youth Crime Action Plan introduced last year to reduce youth offending was paying dividends.

However, addressing the fact that Maori were over-represented in the youth justice system continued to be a challenge.

Outgoing Police Minister Anne Tolley disputed the claims of racism.

“Police prosecute people because they commit a crime, not because of their race,” she said.

This is clearly an inter-generational problem that isn’t solved by looking at conviction or incarceration rates. ?Although there is no doubt in my mind that out of 100 Maori and 100 non-Maori that present in court, the Maori will meet with more severe sentences, unless the reasons Maori have a higher propensity for committing crimes is dealt to, the system is unlikely to produce different results.

As we’ve seen with the way Harewira speaks to his constituents, they are kept in a mode of thinking where they are victims of a system. ?Everything can be explained by Maori having been colonised, beaten down, marginalised and under resourced. ?They do not have to take responsibility – all they have to do is ask for compensation and to drive enough guilt into their liberal oppressors to get more money.

Perhaps that’s a good place to start looking at the problem, instead of looking at prisons.


– The Dominion Post