40% of all Maori males over the age of 15 years have either been imprisoned or served a community sentence. This figures emerged at the Costs of Crime conference in Wellington today. Kim Workman in his opening address said, “If the government wants to be successful in reducing crime, it must acknowledge and address the downstream effects of imprisoning the Maori population. The phenomena of mass imprisonment is well and truly alive in New Zealand.”
The rate of imprisonment for Maori in 2009/10 was 634 per 100,000 people, compared with a rate of 192 per 100,000 for New Zealand overall. Importantly, Maori who become enmeshed in the system have a greater chance of ending up in jail than non-Maori.
When compared to the USA we see that racial minorities make up 60% of the prison population, while in Australia one in four of Aboriginal men are processed through the Courts every year. Both nations have recognised the impact this has on those ethnic and indigenous communities. But according to Mr. Workman the NZ government has largely ignored this.
“Mass imprisonment” describes a situation where imprisonment rates are far higher than the comparative and historical norm, and fall disproportionately on particular (often racial) groups, so that the effects cease to be explicable in terms of individual offending and involve whole communities. In this situation, imprisonment becomes part of the socialisation process. Every family, every householder, every individual in these neighbourhoods has direct personal knowledge of the prison -through a spouse, a child, a parent, a neighbor, a friend. Imprisonment ceases to be a fate of a few criminal individuals and becomes a shaping institution for whole sectors of the population”.
“High rates of imprisonment in vulnerable communities break down the social and family bonds that guide individuals away from crime, remove adults who would otherwise nurture children, deprive communities of income, reduce future income potential, and engender a deep resentment toward the legal system. As a result, communities become less capable of managing social order through family or social groups. That in turn, sends the crime rates up further.”
“We have reached a tipping point, where the incarceration of Maori is causing social damage within their own communities.”
“Unlike the USA, the UK and Australia, the concept of mass imprisonment has not been openly recognised or researched. If we are to quantify the cost of imprisonment, and identify strategies which can work to improve the current situation, research is urgently required. That is particularly crucial if the government is looking to shift resources away from imprisonment toward those communities that generate crime.”
Kim Workman called for the establishment of an independent research institute to examine the issues of Maori within the criminal justice system.