2.4.1 Home Detention

The Department of Corrections recently undertook analysis of Home Detention (HD) statistics, in order to clarify the extent to which Māori were disadvantaged with respect to HD, and the possible reasons for this. HD muster figures consistently reveal that, while Māori constitute around half of the offenders who potentially are eligible for HD (on the basis of receiving a sentence of imprisonment of two years or less), they nevertheless comprise less than 40% of the HD population at any given point in time 1. In a careful analysis of all cases receiving a sentence of imprisonment of two years or less in a twelve-month period (2004/05) Māori were found to be less likely to obtain leave to apply and, amongst those who did apply, Māori were less likely to be granted approval. Thirty-nine percent of New Zealand Europeans were granted leave to apply for HD at the point on sentencing, while only 29.1% of Māori were granted leave to apply. Similarly, 19.3% of Europeans were granted HD at a Parole Board hearing, compared to only 10.7% of Māori .

However, when subjected to statistical analysis, it became apparent that Māori offenders potentially eligible for HD tended to present with more extensive offending histories, including failure to comply with previous sentences and orders. Such characteristics largely explained the lower rates with which Māori obtained access to HD. However, there remained evidence of some residual bias against Māori: 3.6% fewer Māori were given leave to apply, and 2% fewer Māori offenders were granted HD, than would have been expected for a corresponding group of New Zealand European offenders with similar characteristics (for the year analysed, this was equivalent to deficits of 145 Māori being given leave to apply, and approximately 96 Māori being granted HD).

The report does acknowledge that some of the ethnic difference might relate to factors which could not be analysed from the data available, such as the demeanor of the prisoner at the hearing. Another puzzling feature was the significantly larger proportion of Māori than European who had been given leave to apply for HD, but did not in fact make an application (22% of Māori, compared to 13% of European offenders). Again, this may well relate to a common factor which has not been identified.

The statistician responsible for the data analysis utilised in this study concluded as follows:

Collectively, these findings would suggest that any ethnic bias in the judicial processes related to access to HD is likely to be small. Nevertheless, to the extent that Māori constitute the majority of the prison population any evidence of bias against Māori in access to HD should be a source of concern. For this reason it would be prudent to continue to monitor the system for evidence of bias. 2

The results of this study support the proposition that much of the differences in outcomes experienced by Māori and non-Māori offenders, such as those discussed above in relation to apprehensions, prosecutions and sentencing, can reflect real differences in those groups and do not necessarily indicate bias as such.

A similar exercise could be undertaken in relation to parole – the extent to which Māori are required to spend greater proportion of the imposed sentence in prison as a result of Parole Board decisions. Such an exercise has not been completed to date 3, but given the findings for Home Detention, it seems unlikely that the results of such an exercise would be dissimilar.

1 In contrast Pacific offenders made up 11% of those eligible for HD, and 11.5% of those actually on HD.

2 Horwood, J. 2007 Ethnic Bias in Rates of Access to Home Detention, unpublished paper for Department of Corrections

3 Such a study is however being planned by MoJ personnel as part of an “Unintended Consequences of Discretion Research Programme”.