To be attributed to Corrections Chief Executive Ray Smith
I welcome the release of the Waitangi Tribunal report and I acknowledge that the rate of Māori reoffending is unacceptable and presents an extremely serious issue for New Zealand. This is not something we have shied away from. We have come a long way in tackling what is a complex issue, and I know that all Corrections staff, in conjunction with our justice sector colleagues, are determined to continue their focus on reducing all reoffending and to make our communities safer.
I believe it is also important to highlight that we are dealing with entrenched offending committed by a very small sub-section of the Māori community. While 51% of the prison muster identify as Māori, this equates to less than 1% (0.7%) of New Zealand’s total Māori population, with the high proportion of Māori gang affiliation a major driver for recidivism.
I want to thank the Tribunal for its thorough consideration of the evidence presented by Corrections. It is heartening that the Tribunal has acknowledged the difficult task that the Department faces, and that it has recognised “the sincerity and commitment of Department staff who are working hard to achieve their goals.”
Its report is constructive and helpful and I’m pleased to say we have already taken steps to address the concerns raised around targets for strategic planning and reducing reoffending.
Similarly, the report’s six recommendations are fair and will be considered in our wider work with strategic partners as we continue to learn and strive to improve.
Our job is to hold offenders to account and keep the public and staff safe, while making every effort to help turn around the lives of offenders by offering opportunities for rehabilitation. Given the challenging nature of many of the people we deal with, this is no simple task. It takes time and a huge amount of effort, and doesn’t always work the first time. But I can guarantee that we will never give up.
Māori offenders make up 51 per cent of the prison population, a dreadful statistic. We have made significant investment and effort in recent years to address this, and there has never been such a high level of investment directed towards reducing reoffending, particularly for Māori.
And our position at the end of the justice sector pipeline also means the solution to high rates of reoffending among Māori requires a sector wide response and engagement with iwi, which is why we are working closely with our justice sector partners.
We understand the importance of partnership with Māori and we are committed to working with Māori in good faith to reduce reoffending. This is reflected in a range of important work at different levels of the Department. Please see more about our developing plan to reduce re-offending among Māori PDF, 1015.62 KB.
A strategy to align, integrate and initiate work across the justice sector to improve Māori justice outcomes was established in late 2015, co-developed with iwi/Māori alongside Corrections, Police and the Ministry of Justice. This plan has set a target of reducing Māori re-offending by 25% by 2025. Progress on this target is given to Cabinet on a six monthly basis.
The introduction of the Chief Executive’s Māori Advisory Board in 2015 means that seven mandated Iwi representatives are operating at an executive level to provide strategic advice to our Executive Leadership Team on the design of policy and services impacting Māori offenders. Membership is comprised of Iwi that have significant numbers of tribal members under the management of the Department.
A recent signing of an Accord with the Kiingitanga, a group representing Māori tribes, recognises that Corrections and the Kiingitanga have a mutual interest in the cultural, social, physical and economic health and well-being of Māori prisoners and offenders.
As well as establishing vital relationships, in recent years Corrections has made considerable progress in introducing programmes designed to better rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners into life after prison.
Māori make up the largest sub-group participating in all forms of rehabilitation. In recent years Māori offenders made up 60 per cent of those commencing the Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Programme (STURP), and 55 per cent of those starting Drug Treatment Units (DTU) programmes. Overall, in 2014/15, 55 per cent of placements in rehabilitative programmes were Māori.
Reconviction rates for Māori who participate in DTU, Medium Intensity Rehabilitation (MIRP) and Out of Gate programmes, show they are effective, with lower re-imprisonment rates than those who do not complete the programmes.
Completion rates for rehabilitative prison programmes are 82 per cent, and identical for Māori and non-Māori. Māori perform as well, and sometimes better, as a result of completing ‘mainstream’ programmes.
Corrections has also focussed on increasing the number of higher level qualifications achieved by prisoners in the areas of trades and technical training as these are generally in higher demand by employers. In twelve months level three grade qualifications grew by 89 percent from 645 in 2015 to 1,216 in 2016.
But while we strive every day to reduce all reoffending and Māori reoffending in particular, gang membership by Māori remains a major issue. While gang members account for 30% of offenders in prison, 70% of these gang members are Māori.
Gang members reoffend at nearly twice the rate of non-gang offenders, and while higher rates of reoffending amongst Māori reflect a range of factors, the most important of these is the prevalence of gang membership among Māori.
When non-gang related Māori offender statistics are taken into account, then reoffending rates for Māori are consistent with other rates.
In 2013 Corrections began work to develop an action plan to reduce the harm caused by gang members and their associates. The Department’s Gang Action Plan contributes to the Whole of Government plan in this area, providing input into the Gang Intelligence Centre; safety planning for women with gang connections at risk of family violence on release from prison; and support for gang members to adopt an alternative lifestyle. Corrections also works to improve the outcomes of children of gang members in prison.
I can assure everyone that there is no lack of will, resources or effort to reduce Māori reoffending. But it can’t happen in a day. Turning around lives takes time and a huge amount of effort, both from our staff and the offenders themselves.
From the people we recruit, to the programmes we provide and the facilities and technology we use, everything we do has a link to reducing reoffending among Māori and the wider prison population.
We are committed to making a difference in the lives of offenders. But there is no one solution, and we are always looking at how we can improve and how we can do more. I am proud of the work that has been done to date by Corrections staff. There is more to come.