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


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  • Brian of Mt Wellington

    If certain races are over represented in criminal offending or jail then the only way to reduce it is for them to stop committing crime, simple as that. It ain’t rocket science.

  • Alan Wilkinson

    Just arrested for serial burglary here, grandfather and grandson. Family business, culture of dishonesty and disrespect for property rights and other people.

  • Kip_Dynamite

    Flavell is pulling the racist card already? That didn’t take long. I actually think the guy is a good advocate for Maori, but not with this kind of emotive garbage.

    The justice system is not racist – it is representative of the demographics of offending, and the severity offending (as you point out Cam). The reason Maori are over-represented in our prison system is due to the corresponding over-representation in serious offending. That’s a systemic issue that needs to be addressed by people like Mr Flavell being honest and not blaming whitey.

  • JustanObserver

    “Maori are four to five times more likely to be apprehended, prosecuted and convicted than non-Maori counterparts”
    Surely Flavell isn’t suggesting that the Police are doing ‘too good’ in apprehending Maori offenders, because that is what it sounds like.
    We are all born with our bottoms pointing down, all with the ‘opportunity’ of life ….
    ‘Attitude is everything, all else can be learned’ , change the attitudes, watch everything change.

  • Mike

    Didn’t he recently make a statement about how having one law for all, regardless of colour, is racist? That says it all for me. Underneath the thin veneer of reasonableness he’s really no different from Hone Harewira.

  • Whitey

    It’s disappointing to see Minister Flavell taking this stance, because it’s not a constructive one. Blaming the justice system for being racist isn’t going to address the problem, for the simple reason that Tolley is right: police apprehend and prosecute people because they commit crimes. It’s clear that there is a major problem with Maori and crime, but that problem isn’t in the justice system. Flavell himself notes that Maori aged 10 to 13 are six times as likely as other ethnicities to commit offences in that age bracket – any time a kid that age comes to the attention of the police there is a serious problem and it is a problem with the kid’s family, not “the system”.

  • voxburger

    If Mr Falvells assumptions are correct, when considering our Asian population and their incarceration rate an awful lot of them must be released without being charged. Too many of us are becoming experts at looking past ourselves when it comes to placing responsibility. The high figures for 10 – 13 year old Maori kids has little to do with the kid and everything to do with their guardians.

  • lightseed

    personally i would like to see why more maori youth are in the system and what can be done to stop that from happening and help them before they get that far.

    • voxburger

      Generational welfare dependence, shoddy peer influence and sub-standard parenting is my take on ‘Why?’

      • Albert Lane

        If you have had a rotten childhood, been brought up by a solo parent who had no knowledge or experience of a decent upbringing, had a succession of “uncles” in your life, tried vainly to sleep in the room next to nightly parties and noise, been ill-fed and ill-clothed, with no interest taken in you, and you didn’t attend school very often, as there would be nobody awake to get you off to school, what do you think you’d be like by the time you were a teenager? What do you think you’d be like as an 15 year-old solo parent yourself?

        • Imogen B

          Albert, thank you for your contributions to this topic.
          They are to the point without being judgemental.
          With your clear observations and profound good sense, I hope you are in a position to influence policy and action in this area. It is all our interests to ensure better outcomes for young maori.

          • Albert Lane

            Imogen B. I must admit that even as a child in the 1940’s, I loved hearing parliamentary debate over our old radio at home, and I always aspired to be a member of parliament. My military career precluded me from ever achieving my political aims, and my only political achievement was to become an (unpaid) electorate secretary. However, my military service enabled me to get to know a very wide cross-section of the community, and I learned to appreciate the contribution made to our society by so many erudite Maori people. One of those was General Brian Poananga, who was a mentor and father-figure to me. However, because he was not of chiefly descent, he held no status or mana as a leader in the Maori community, which hurts me to this day. I was the testing officer for a young soldier named Mateparae when he attended his officer selection board, and in all my years of performing this duty, I never met anybody as outstanding as him. His intellect and presence was so powerful, that he would automatically become the leader of the group he was put with, and in order to see what potential others had, I continually had to ask him to take no further part in the many leadership tests the group was given. I’m sure he must have thought he had failed. And look what he has achieved! And Maoridom has no shortage of such inspirational leaders. My biggest regret is that too many Maoris never have the opportunity to show their natural leadership abilities, because too often the leadership of the Maori people is governed by the status of their birth – and not by their abilities. Imogen, thank-you for your very kind words.

    • phronesis

      It’s partly a question of definition and identification. Almost none of the successful (part) Maori I know ever identify as Maori. On the other hand there is evidence that many of those at the bottom socioeconomically will identify as maori even if they have no specific claim. Given recent cases where defence lawyers have used their clients identification as Maori as a defence or mitigation I’m surprised that everyone who comes before the courts doesn’t claim to be Maori.

  • lyall

    sad to see this old line again, statistics do not work when it comes to racially analysing the justice system as every case has unique mitigating circumstances! the biggest fear for a judge is that an offender commits a violent crime/murder after being let off jail by said judge, therefore any hint of violence/aggression even lack of remorse means a custodial sentence suddenly gets a whole lot more likely – surely a minister understands this! I know people love hearing they are oppressed but seriously it’s 3 years till the next election!

  • Sundreamer

    “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”

    This is true. A few years ago my white middle class son had a brush with the law. Despite even the police assuring us it was minor we were at the police station immediately, reparation was made, apologies given in person and writing, followup was done and a very sorry for himself son learnt a good lesson. No charges were laid. Good parenting is the answer to many of these claims.

    • Miguel

      Indeed – the ‘stuff the Police’ attitude, perhaps combined with a prior record, might explain why Maori get more severe sentences.

      It’s a bit like speeding tickets, really – just don’t commit crime and you’ll be sweet.

    • Albert Lane

      That’s because your son had his first brush with the law. The majority of the Maori offenders offend from the age of about 8 onwards, with regular and constant offending until their eventual imprisonment. You can’t compare your son with these constant offenders. And that’s why the constant offenders are treated more harshly by the law.

  • johnnyB

    I am not sure the ‘Racist’ tag sits. I would even go the other way and think if you were Maori and fronted with an alternative to conviction the Judiciary might be more inclined to not convict especially for first offenders ( quite a well know Tainui youth and some of his friends come out of this system favourably recently) More likely it is a case of acceptance that the system is going to deal to me and repeat behaviour is behind the figures.

  • John

    On average Maori have far more aggravating circumstances (i.e previous convictions) at sentencing which is why they receive harsher sentences.

  • phronesis

    Our justice system is actually very biased. Sentences for crimes such as fraud and property theft are absurdly short and this sends a signal to the police not to pursue such convictions. Police resources are focused almost solely on violent crime and this is no doubt a political decision. This focus leads directly to over representation of Maori as they are massively more likely to commit violent crimes. There is clearly a cultural aspect to this propensity to violence although it is certainly not unique to Maori.

    The implicit suggestion by Maori that our society condemns violence over and above other crimes because it is a Maori trait is quite bizarre.

    • voxburger

      I think you raise an interesting point. It prompted me to wonder if I had to choose 1, would I prefer a conman ripped $5000 from my old Mum or a thug bashed her.

    • Albert Lane

      Some years ago, I was “privlieged” to have been tasked with extracting all relevant information of inmates of one of our largest prisons, to update the computer system. Some of these inmates had huge files, and almost all had an extensive criminal history, with records of offences from a very early age, with regular re-offending and increasing severity, until they were eventually imprisoned in their late teens. A hundred previous convictions would be nothing out of the ordinary. When I finished recording the first file, I thought that this might be the worst criminal in NZ. But every other file showed exactly the same sequences of events eventually leading to imprisonment. Strangely, by the time an inmate was in their mid-30’s, they were a rarity in the prison system (apart from the sex offenders who were often quite old), and I can only speculate what happened to these people that had caused them to stop offending. It’s no use trying to stop the teenagers from offending, as the problems arise years before this, and this is where we should be targeting our efforts. Put a stop to truancy. Impose strict supervision on vulnerable parents. Test parents for literacy and numeracy and you’d be shocked at the result. Provide adult education in literacy and budgeting AND parenting.

      • kehua

        Your last 5 lines spell it out pretty damn well Albert.

        • Albert Lane

          Kehua. The solutions are there, but much of Maoridom has defective leadership. Too many Maori leaders are leaders by descent, and they are not chosen by their true leadership qualities. And if you read about some of the amazing Maori leaders I have met (see further down this page), you’ll understand what I mean.

  • Bart67

    There are two organisations in New Zealand where Maori are over-represented as a percentage of general population. The prison population, and the New Zealand Defence Force. Would you call our Armed Forces racist?

    • Miguel

      I’d wager you could you add professional sports and professional musicians/entertainers to that list, too.

    • Albert Lane

      When I was a serving soldier, around 60% of the Army was comprised of Maori. They were predominantly from Ngapuhi, Te Arawa, Tainui, and East Coast North Island. And they were very, very good soldiers. There were many senior ranks, and they were amazing people. I’m proud to have served with them. And I have also worked in the NZ prison system. Yes, over 50% of our inmates were also Maori. Maori without leadership. Maori without ambition. Maori without proper family upbringing. And they were mainly urban Maoris. The history of urban Maoridom goes back to the 1950’s when labour shortages primarily in south Auckland attracted many Maoris to move there. And over the years they lost contact with their tribal roots, and they intermarried with people who likewise had no tribal connections and their culture slowly disappeared, until they were simply dark-skinned people, some with Maori names, and others with English names, and they found it easy to drift into crime and the gangs, and to wag school. The two main Maori maraes in Auckland recognised this problem some years ago, and they thought the best solution would be to have the non-tribal-affiliated Maoris regarded as a tribe under the terms of the Treaty, and the two maraes would provide their leadership and also try to re-connect the disconnected Maoris with their original tribes. This ended up in the High Court, and was vehemently opposed by the established Maori tribes, who won their case. And that’s why we have all these dark-skinned problem people who predominantly live in the South Auckland or Porirua (Wellington) areas. They’re not real Maoris at all, but they’re regarded as Maori. I think that it’s time that the two maraes were contacted to find out whether the case should be re-heard. Give these youth guidance, leadership and culture. Encourage them into education, trades and professions. And then see the result. The Maoris are perhaps among the best soldiers in the world, and there is no reason why Maoris can’t be amongst the best citizens of this world.

      • Nic C

        Well put Albert… some very interesting and worthwhile observations.
        One question though… do you know what the dissenting reasons were the other tribes were so opposed to the setting up of new tribe to represent urban Maori?

        • Albert Lane

          There should be something about it in the public records. The case was heard in the Auckland High Court in 1997 or 1998. Alternatively, you could contact the two Auckland maraes. From memory, Hone Waititi Marae was one of them. I’m pretty certain that John Tamihere was very much involved in the case supporting the establishment of the proposed urban iwi.
          A quick Google search turned up one interesting paper. Worth a read: Reference is made to the formation of urban Maori iwi on page 11.


          This is what I googled. urban maori iwi treaty of waitangi 1998

          You’ll find there was a lot of discussion about the proposal.


      And the Parliament.

  • Herbert Charles

    Does Flavell think there are alot of Teina Pora’s in the correction system? Where police join the dots wrong and the innocent maori gets put away, cause nobody really gives a hoot about a maori with gang connections etc.

  • Woody

    I had high hopes that Mr Flavell would be the exception to his family history of playing the race card, obviously my hopes have been seriously dented.

    I know a lot of families including my own who have no representation in the prison system, using Flavell’s criteria that must be because the system is biased towards us which is actually a lot of rot, the reason is that we don’t commit crimes so we don’t come to the attention of the system. BTW, those families include both Maori and non Maori. We do all however suffer from the much maligned concept of taking personal responsibility for ourselves.

  • no bullswool

    Woke up this morning to find the kids cheap car parked out front of house gone. Kids share it to drive to train station or to their part time jobs. They are both uni students working hard who travel an hour each way a day from south Auckland on train to classes. Before I have even had time to ring the police they ring me.The car has been found ditched in Otara window smashed, ignition ripped out. This is not the first time we have had our stuff stolen since living in Auckland so I have another ‘R’ word for Mr Flavell and that is ‘Reality’.This is the reality we live in living in south Auckland. So sick of having our stuff taken. So going to do as they do in South Africa: big electronic gate, high fences, to keep our stuff safe while we sleep!

  • Vera Fayed

    JK should get Flavell into the big office and give him a right good bollocking. Tell him that if he can’t come up with something better than this recycled tripe there will soon be a vacancy for a new minister who can bring something constructive to the job.

    • alt_view

      Mr Key might also remind Mr Flavell that he is only in parliament because of:

      a) racist policies that allow only some of the population to vote in Maori seats- there are seven set aside that only Maori can stand in. The candidates qualify to vote and to stand even if they are only 1/8 Maori and the rest of them is 7/8 scots/german/polish. This success in a Maori-only racial divide seat accounts for his base $147k salary.

      b) he has a significant top up to his salary as Minister of Maori Development- Not minister of White person development (heaven forbid the rascist overtones); not Minister of Chinese people development.
      He is specifically paid for and charged with helping Maori people.
      His mandate is 100% racist.
      I want a united country. The Minister’s comments do not help.

  • Wasapilot

    I have been wondering lately what Ngai Tahu do with their profits. Is it all pumped back into the business, oops I mean trust? I would love to know how Ngai Tahu help their benficieries, aprt from the odd scholarship and the like?

    I have had a look at their website, but apart from a lot of puffery I can see no information on how they distribute their profits.

  • TayheiNotts

    I think the justice department is sexist. That must be the reason that 96% of our prison population are male.