2.6 Summary and Conclusion
In the volume of individuals initially apprehended for criminal offending, and consequently serving community and prison sentences, Māori feature in greater numbers than could be expected from their numbers in the general population. Much of this apparent ethnic difference is able to be shown to be related to other factors which validly apply, equally, to all ethnicities – factors such as previous offending history.
However, as described in Section 2 of this report, a number of studies have shown evidence of some of greater likelihood, associated only with ethnicity, for Māori offenders to:
- have police contact
- be charged
- lack legal representation
- not be granted bail
- plead guilty
- be convicted
- be sentenced to non-monetary penalties
- be denied release to Home Detention.
Compelling evidence of bias has not been identified at every step of the criminal justice decision-making process, and much of the disparity is small and open to other possible explanations. Māori disproportionality in criminal justice statistics may, to some extent at least, be a cumulative effect, whereby the interactions of relatively small individual effects produce significant disparities at the national level. In other words, relatively minor biasing influences may successfully combine to produce, at the end point, quite substantial effects. However, it cannot realistically be suggested that current differences in the rate of imprisonment could arise solely from such effects.
There appears to be sufficient evidence to conclude that ethnicity, in and of itself, plays some small but tangible role at key decision making points, in ways that are not intended by the justice system. Bias can, however, potentially be a misleading term: as commentators who have extensively researched this area argued, bias “often results, not from deliberate discrimination, but from unconscious prejudice and stereotyping and as an unintended consequence of prima facie reasonable attitudes, practices, and decisions” 1.
It is appropriate also to repeat Horwood’s conclusion cited above on disparity in Home Detention outcomes, that even small “bias” effects might have significant impacts, and should at least be monitored. At some points in the system, more thorough and up-to-date investigation is likely to be required, and may well suggest useful changes to policy or practice.
1 Cavadino, Michael and Dignan, James. 1992. The Penal System: An Introduction. London: SAGE Publications, p.225.