Failure to reduce Maori reoffending

The Crown is breaching its Treaty of Waitangi obligations by failing to prioritise the reduction of the high rate of Maori reoffending, the Waitangi Tribunal announced today.

The undisputed disparity between Maori and non-Maori reoffending rates is longstanding and substantial, says the tribunal in a statement.

High Maori reoffending rates contribute to the disproportionate imprisonment of Maori, who currently make up half of New Zealand's prisoners in spite of being only 15 per cent of the national population.

The report released today, Tu Mai te Rangi! looks at how the Crown, through the Department of Corrections, is failing to meet its Treaty responsibilities to reduce Maori reoffending rates.

While the Justice sector announced in February 2017 a broad target to reduce Maori reoffending, the Department has no specific plan or strategy to reduce Maori reoffending rates, no specific target to reduce Maori reoffending rates, and no specific budget to meet this end.

The Tribunal therefore concludes the Crown is not prioritising the reduction of the rate of Maori reoffending and is in breach of its Treaty obligations to protect Maori interests and to treat Maori equitably.

The Tribunal says for the Crown to be acting consistently with its Treaty obligations in this context, it must be giving urgent priority to addressing disproportionate Maori reoffending rates in clear and convincing ways.

The inquiry follows a claim filed by Tom Hemopo, a retired senior probation officer. The Tribunal, consisting of Judge Patrick Savage, Bill Wilson QC, Tania Simpson, and Professor Derek Lardelli, heard the claim under urgency in Wellington in July 2016.

The Tribunal looked at recent efforts by the Department to reduce the overall rate of reoffending by 25 per cent. It says the most recent statistics supplied by the Crown show Maori progress toward this target has slowed dramatically, while the gap between Maori and non-Maori progress toward the target has widened.

The Waitangi Tribunal finds the Crown in breach of its Treaty obligations by failing to prioritise the reduction of the high rate of Maori reoffending relative to non-Maori.

But it finds the Crown has not breached its partnership obligations, given that the Department of Corrections is making good faith attempts to engage with iwi and hapu. However, the Tribunal says the Crown must live up to its stated commitment to develop its partnerships with Maori.

Among the Tribunal's recommendations is that the Department work with its Maori partners to design and implement a new Maori-specific strategic framework, set and commit to a Maori-specific target for the Department to reduce Maori reoffending rates, and regularly and publically report on the progress made towards this.

The Tribunal also recommends the Crown include a dedicated budget to appropriately resource the new strategic focus and target.