4 Apr 2009

'First steps' toward tackling crime rates

6:15 am on 4 April 2009

The Justice Minister says a summit to identify the causes of offending is the first step in a long and involved process to lowering crime rates.

More than 100 people involved in the justice sector met at Parliament on Friday for a "Drivers of Crime" summit.

Justice Minister Simon Power co-hosted the meeting with Maori Affairs and Associate Corrections Minister, Pita Sharples.

The Salvation Army, which attended, says it will take a generation to implement all of the changes needed to identify and tackle the causes of crime.

A spokesperson, Major Graham Rattray, says work must be done with families at risk, before their children are even born.

He says there's a need to enhance the role of midwives, district health nurses and plunket nurses to support families.

"It's going to take a generation to implement some of the ideas, but some of the ideas can be implemented quite quickly," he said.

The children's support service, Barnados, says the Government seems willing to listen to suggestions that came out of the summit about identifing and tackling the causes of crime.

Its chief executive, Murray Edridge, says participants talked about early intervention and directing resources towards children in their first three years of life.

'No plans' for separate justice system

Simon Power says he has no plans to advocate for a separate Maori justice system.

He says the Government's first priority has been the safety of the public, so policies have largely focused on responding to crime. But it is now time to focus on why people are in jail in the first place.

Statistics show that, although Maori make up just over 15% of the population, they make up 50.1% of prison inmates.

Researcher Richie Poulton says that is because Maori are over-exposed to risk factors that lead to crime.

Mr Sharples says Maori are 11 times more likely to be put in jail than any other group.

"Maori are more likely to be apprehended, more likely to be placed before a court, more likely to be convicted and more likely to be incarcerated than any other people on the same charge," he said.

The Green Party says the justice system is biased against Maori, and wants a parallel tikanga-based system to be introduced.

Law and Order and Maori Affairs spokesperson Metiria Turei says it would help eliminate what she calls "systemic racial profiling" and stem Maori reoffending.

But Mr Power says he does not subscribe to the idea there is an anti-Maori bias in the justice system and said a separate system for Maori is not on the Government's agenda.

"I think, by and large, it's how you intertwine into the current justice system some responses that might be more effective - but we're not running two parallel justice systems in New Zealand."

Participants of the summit will receive a summary of their suggestions and will have a month to put forward any other ideas.

In May, Mr Power and Dr Sharples will discuss the ideas and see whether they can formulate any policy around them.