4.0 Overall summary and conclusions
As stated initially, this report has focused generally on empricially based research. The reason for this arguably narrow approach was to maintain an evidence based approach, focused for policy development purposes. The limitations of this approach are acknowledged, and at various places the discussion has noted the possibility of wider contextual aspects which should be taken into account. Much of the weight of that context concerns cultural differences, in particular a distinctly Māori approach which seeks, demands even, the need to look beyond the individual to social and cultural circumstances and surroundings. The preface from a Te Puni Kokiri report on Māori Family Violence describes this well:
When we embarked on this project we thought that its direction would be relatively clear. As we progressed, issues became more complex and divergent than anticipated. We discovered that there are elements of truth to be found in all the theories about men’s use of violence. However, most of these theories, developed outside a Māori context, focused on the rehabilitation of individual men. Every person we interviewed, and our own experience in the field, challenged the appropriateness of an individualised response for Māori to the battering of women. 1
This is a methodology which does not relate readily to most empirical research techniques, which focus on individuals in order to be precise and isolate elements of a situation. In particular, it does not sit well in the research context of a western criminal justice system that is based on a fundamental principle of individual responsibility and which, in assessing guilt, deliberately seeks to be “blind” to much of the accused person’s personal and social circumstances.
Therein may lie some of the answer to the problem of Māori over-representation in the criminal justice system. The strength of the argument for a less individualised approach comes from the multifaceted nature of the issues involved, which go well beyond individuals, to their context and their history. This approach demands attention, even if it does not give answers in a form recognizable or readily usable within current justice sector processes. It would also demand a response well beyond the ability of government agencies alone to deliver.
This report has endeavoured to answer the question: when Māori make up just 14% of the national population, why do they feature so disproportionately in criminal justice statistics - 42% of all Police apprehensions, and 50% of the prison population?
The greatest weight of the answer is quite straightforward: when a range of measures of social and economic disadvantage are taken into account, Māori ethnicity recedes as an explanation for over-representation. The level of Māori
over-representation in the criminal justice system is very much what could be predicted given the combination of individuals’ life experiences and circumstances, regardless of ethnicity. In this sense, Māori over-representation is not a “Māori” problem at all.
This raises a question far beyond the scope of the criminal justice system: why do Māori so disproportionately experience adverse life experiences and circumstances?
For a range of social and historical reasons, many Māori appear to be unusually prone to experiencing such circumstances. This does not imply that ethnicity in and of itself is the key to preventing and managing offending behaviour. Rather, it implies that the access of Māori to the key services of health, social support and education, and the effectiveness of those services for Māori, is of crucial importance in reducing disadvantage and the problems it confers, including heightened risk of criminality.
It is acknowledged that Pacific people also face social disadvantage in New Zealand yet, while over-represented in criminal justice statistics, do not appear to be so to the same extent as Māori. There are several considerations relevant to this point. While Pacific people are indeed likely to feature disproportionately on a number of measures of social deprivation, this is less so in relation to certain specific predictors of offending risk, such as early school leaving. Pacific people also tend to demonstrate different patterns of offending from both European and Māori offender groups. Then too, their history of settlement in New Zealand, the particular family and community dynamics that ensue, as well as the fluidity of movement between their island states and this country 2, make them a distinct social group, and affects the relationship between actual and recorded offending in different ways. To attempt an analysis that essentially conflates two distinct social and ethnic groups runs the risk of masking patterns and trends.
The focus here, in analyzing Māori over-representation as a priority, arises because of the urgency created by the sheer volume of Māori offenders. When an ethnic group comprising under 15% of the population is over-represented in crime to the extent found, a very large effect is registered on community sentence and prison numbers, and on the communities from which the offenders have come. An analysis of Pacific offending would indeed be worthwhile but was not within the scope of the present work, for the reasons given.
Māori have, historically, not been well-served by the policy “settings” of Government, resulting in high levels of exposure to the risk factors described above. Despite subsequent efforts of public sector agencies to align their services with the needs of Māori over the last two decades, clear disparities remain. Nonetheless, the continuation of policy targeting the needs of disadvantaged and dysfunctional families is vital. Co-ordination and collaboration is required – within government and with communities and community based organisations.
Nevertheless, there remains a proportion of the question of Māori
over-representation that the criminal justice system must address as its own. Analysis of data from apprehension through prosecution to conviction and finally sentencing confirms that Māori are more likely to be apprehended and more severely punished than non-Māori. As stated above, much of this difference is explicable for reasons that relate to disadvantage rather than ethnicity – but at key stages there is evidence of a degree of over-representation that relates to ethnicity.
Analysis of apprehensions statistics and consideration of the processes leading to apprehension and arrest suggests that apprehension statistics do not directly reflect actual offending behaviour of Māori in the community. Instead there is evidence of a higher probability of Māori offenders being subject to criminal apprehension, and at a younger age. With respect to the conviction and sentencing data however, the available evidence indicates that other factors - particularly seriousness and history of offending - account for most of the observed ethnicity-related differences in the data. However there are signs of small effects at key points, which may well accumulate into a significant effect. There appears to be an issue around the higher than average rates at which Māori appear to plead guilty to offences, as well as lower levels of diversion and entries of “no plea”, which raise questions surrounding access to adequate legal representation at key stages.
As has been repeatedly stressed above, the two perspectives (justice system bias and social disadvantage/dysfunction) are by no means mutually exclusive, and it must be accepted that both offer important explanations for the current state of affairs, and suggest viable directions for policy development. Indeed, it would seem highly likely that an interaction between the two does in fact occur, where the operation of one set of processes makes the other more likely. For example, early environmental influences may predispose individuals towards certain types of behaviour, which in turn raises the risk of Police involvement. The “profiling” effect discussed in section 2.1.1 above then increases the likelihood that any individual instance of offending will be detected, resulting in the more rapid accumulation of an official offending history than someone else who is offending to the same extent but has not yet come to official attention.
With respect to options for policy intervention to address the over-representation of Māori in social groups at high risk of later offending, the material above describes a distinct “pathway”, in which multiple risk factors, including individual characteristics, family experiences, social disadvantage, educational underachievement, and use of alcohol and drugs, combine to raise the risk of later criminal involvement. These policy areas are the context, rather than the primary focus, of the criminal justice sector agencies. As this report has shown, a trajectory towards offending can begin early in life, and it is this point at which intervention is most likely to be effective in reducing the risk of offending for the most vulnerable.
With respect to early intervention, the agencies primarily concerned with the criminal justice sector do have a key role to play in preventing re-offending through rehabilitation and re-integration of youth and adult offenders. There is also an important contribution to be made by criminal justice agencies in recognising that the suspects, offenders, and inmates being dealt with are also family and community members – sons and daughters, siblings, whanau and – critically – often parents themselves. Greater recognition of these relationships and responsibilities by criminal justice sector agencies, and co-operation and collaboration with Māori communities and the government and non-government agencies primarily responsible for early intervention activities, could help to reduce the reinforcing of disadvantage which can occur as an unintended consequence of criminal justice policy and practice.
1 Balzer R, Haimmona D, Henare M, Matchitt V. 1997. Maori Family Violence in Aotearoa. Te Puni Kokiri, Wellington.
2 It is sometimes argued that the relatively low rates of reconviction and re-imprisonment observed amongst Pacific offenders in part may result from the practice of families sending young Pacific offenders home to their island of origin “to straighten them out”. Commentary on the recent riots in Tonga supported this possibility – many rioters are alleged to belong to a street gang known as the ‘Deportees” – people who have been sent back to Tonga after having been deported from prisons in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Simon Manning (2006) State of It: Tonga faces Crossroad, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0611/S00412.htm.