Summary and conclusions
A reasonably clear disparity was identified between Maori and New Zealand European offenders with respect to both leave to apply and approval of Home Detention applications. However, statistical analysis indicated that Maori offenders potentially eligible for Home Detention 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 Maori obtained access to Home Detention. Decisions made by sentencing judges, and the Parole Board, thus do not appear inconsistent with relevant legislation requiring them to take account of public safety and sentence compliance considerations 9.
The absence of any observed Pacific offender under-representation in the Home Detention muster was unexpected. Further research to understand this finding may potentially shed further light on reasons why Maori are under-represented. The Ministry of Justice intend to conduct further research on ways in which discretionary powers in the criminal justice system are exercised, and inclusion of this topic in that programme of research is recommended.
As noted above, a significant number of Maori offenders failed to make applications for release on Home Detention, even after obtaining Leave to Apply. Available evidence indicated that this may have reflected offenders’ reactions to the demands imposed by the application process, but it might also have reflected difficulties relating to a home address. While this might have pointed to a possible strategy for improving approval rates for Maori (i.e., through providing more support and assistance to Maori offenders in filing applications), under sentence reform legislation, Home Detention becomes a sentence in its own right, which can be expected to reduce the extent to which procedural and circumstantial obstacles will intrude into the process.
Nevertheless, this issue ought to be monitored carefully as the new sentence is implemented, so that if similar processes emerge to the disadvantage of Maori, actions can be taken to address those issues. The Department intends to enhance procedures at the pre-sentence stage by giving careful consideration to Home Detention as a sentencing option in every case where imprisonment is a possible outcome. This will ensure that sentencing judges have all information necessary for the imposition of this sentence.
Clearly, addressing the over-representation of Maori in prison statistics will need to be addressed primarily through reducing the relative incidence, seriousness and persistence of offending by Maori. As such, the focus on early intervention, which seeks to prevent the commencement of criminal careers, emerges once again as a key focus for policy and service development.
9. It is acknowledged however that some information available to judges and/or the Parole Board was not also available for inclusion in the current analysis (for example, written reports, offender demeanour).