Institutional racism in justice system: Flavell

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 13/10/2014

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The new Minister of Maori Development Te Ururoa Flavell is calling for a review of the justice system as young Maori become increasingly over represented in youth crime statistics.

Fewer young offenders are fronting the judge but young Maori are making up more of those who do pass through the justice system.

Latest Ministry of Justice figures show the number of children and young people charged in Youth Court is the lowest in 20 years. However, as the number drops, the figures show the proportion of young Maori compared with non-Maori is rising.

Six years ago, Maori represented 48 per cent of youths facing charges in the Youth Court. The latest figures reveal that has jumped to 57 per cent.

While the Government lauds the decrease in youth crime, Flavell, who is also co-leader of the Maori Party, said the New Zealand justice system continued to be stacked against young Maori.

A review of the justice system was long overdue and would back up the research and statistics that indicated there was institutional racism in the justice system, he said. "I believe that for many Maori, the justice system is filled with bias, prejudice and institutional racism."

Flavell said the failure to address institutional racism was a factor in the increasing rate of representation of young Maori in the justice system.

"Maori are four to five times more likely to be apprehended, prosecuted and convicted than non-Maori counterparts, and in the case of Maori aged between 10 and 13 this is six times more likely. How can we ignore the existence of institutional racism in the justice system in the face of facts like these?"

In April, the United Nations said the New Zealand justice system "must be a reviewed" after finding it was biased against Maori.

Former Associate Justice Minister Chester Borrows said the Youth Crime Action Plan introduced last year to reduce youth offending was paying dividends.

However, addressing the fact that Maori were over-represented in the youth justice system continued to be a challenge.

Kim Workman, from Rethinking Crime and Punishment, said when the Youth Crime Action Plan was introduced, improving outcomes for Maori youth was a critical objective.

To that end, the plan was not working, he said.

Outgoing Police Minister Anne Tolley disputed the claims of racism.

"Police prosecute people because they commit a crime, not because of their race," she said.

"There are a number of factors that explain Maori over-representation in the criminal justice system, including a number of gangs that have very high Maori membership.

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"These gangs are responsible for high levels of serious crimes, they have high re-offending rates and their children are at high-risk of abuse and juvenile offending."

Police were working hard to build positive and constructive relationships with iwi and the community focused on both preventing crime and victimisation, Tolley said.

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- The Dominion Post

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