Māori are significantly over-represented at every stage in the criminal justice process
Māori make up only 15% of New Zealand's population, but account for a disproportionate amount of those coming into contact with the criminal justice system - both as victims and offenders. Rates of victimisation across most offence types - particularly violent offences - are significantly higher for Māori. Māori are also over-represented at the other end of the criminal justice spectrum; in New Zealand's arrests, prosecutions, convictions, imprisonments and re-imprisonments.
At every stage in the criminal justice process, the outcomes for Māori are generally more severe than they are for Pakeha. Māori are less likely to receive diversion or cautions and are more likely to be sentenced to prison. Although New Zealand's imprisonment rate is 199 people per 100,000, the rate for Māori is closer to 700 per 100,000. Māori make up over 50% of New Zealand's prison population and over 60% of its female prison population.
The high imprisonment rate is a relatively recent phenomenon - only increasing substantially from the 1950s onwards. This point in time coincided with the rapid urbanisation of Māori and other social and economic changes. However, it has proved resistant to policy responses in the criminal justice sector.
The levels of offending and victimisation have significant inter-generational impact on the well-being of Māori households and communities. The stigma associated with imprisonment also hampers the successful rehabilitation of former prisoners into mainstream society, increasing the risk of re-offending.
Why are Māori over-represented in the criminal justice system?
These issues are the subject of on-going public debate, policy and legislative development. Research highlights the range of possible explanations for the increasing over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system in the context of a falling crime rate. These include:
structural inequality and criminal justice system bias towards Māori
a higher proportion of Māori experiencing multiple 'drivers of crime'; such as poor health, family breakdown, and low rates of economic and social participation
a youthful Māori population, with more Māori in the typical 'offending age range'
However there is little empirical research on these issues. Much of what currently exists is deficit based, and focuses on Maori needs and social disadvantage. Rethinking believes that broader social research is needed in New Zealand. In particular, we should be learning from those strong and resilient whanau who succeed despite individual and collective disadvantage.
Changing the broken record: New theory and data on Māori offending
S. Bull (2009)
Three (million) Strikes and Still Not Out: The Crown as the Ultimate Recidivist
A. Mikaere (2008)
The Study of Māori Offending
Hon. T. Durie (2007)
Māori and the Criminal Justice System: Key Research
Māori and Victimisation
The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey (2006) - An analysis of the Māori experience
Read the executive summary online at the Ministry of Justice website
Download the full document
Māori in the Criminal Justice System
Māori Over-representation in the Criminal Justice System (2009)
Identifying and Responding to Bias in the Criminal Justice System (2009)
Māori at Risk of Crime: Some Factors (2009)
Over-representation of Māori in the Criminal Justice System (2007)
Māori and the Criminal Justice System in New Zealand (2007)
The Offender Assessment Policies Report (2005)
Report on Combatting and Preventing Māori Crime (2000)
Māori Youth and the Criminal Justice System
Maori youth offending (2005)
Read this online at the New Zealand Police website
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