The Waitangi Tribunal has found the Crown in breach of its Treaty obligations by failing to prioritise the reduction of the high rate of Māori reoffending relative to non-Māori. The Tribunal says the undisputed disparity between Māori and non-Māori reoffending rates is longstanding and substantial. It says high Māori reoffending rates contribute to the disproportionate imprisonment of Māori, who currently make up half of New Zealand’s prisoners, despite being only 15 per cent of the national population. The report looks at how the Crown, through the Department of Corrections, is failing to meet its Treaty responsibilities to reduce Māori reoffending rates.
The inquiry followed a claim filed by Tom Hemopo, a retired senior probation officer. The Tribunal, consisting of Judge Patrick Savage, Bill Wilson QC, Tania Simpson, and Professor Derek Lardelli, heard the claim under urgency in Wellington in July 2016. The Tribunal looked at recent efforts by the Department to reduce the overall rate of reoffending by 25 per cent. It says the most recent statistics supplied by the Crown show Māori progress toward this target has slowed dramatically, while the gap between Māori and non-Māori progress toward the target has widened. The Tribunal says that for the Crown to be acting consistently with its Treaty obligations in this context, it must be giving urgent priority to addressing disproportionate Māori reoffending rates in clear and convincing ways. The Tribunal says that, while the Justice sector announced in February 2017 a broad target to reduce Māori reoffending, the Department has no specific plan or strategy to reduce Māori reoffending rates, no specific target to reduce Māori reoffending rates, and no specific budget to meet this end. The Tribunal therefore concludes that the Crown is not prioritising the reduction of the rate of Māori reoffending and is in breach of its Treaty obligations to protect Māori interests and to treat Māori equitably. The Tribunal finds that the Crown has not breached its partnership obligations, given that the Department of Corrections is making good faith attempts to engage with iwi and hapū. However, the Tribunal says the Crown must live up to its stated commitment to develop its partnerships with Māori.
Among the Tribunal’s recommendations is that the Department work with its Māori partners to design and implement a new Māori-specific strategic framework, set and commit to a Māori-specific target for the Department to reduce Māori reoffending rates, and regularly and publically report on the progress made towards this.
The Tribunal also recommends the Crown include a dedicated budget to appropriately resource the new strategic focus and target.