11 Sep 2015

Back incarcerated Maori Waitangi claim, says iwi

7:39 am on 11 September 2015

A Hawke's Bay iwi is urging other tribes to step up and back an urgent claim submitted to the Waitangi Tribunal alleging the Crown is responsible for the high number of Māori in prison.

Retired probation officer Tom Hemopo has made an application to the Tribunal claiming the Crown had done little to address the high rate of Maori imprisonment and reoffending.

Prison wire.

Statistics New Zealand figures show the percentage of Māori convicted of offences was at its worst in 2014. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

His claim is supported by Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Pāhauwera Development Trust.

Chair of the trust, Toro Waaka, said he wanted other iwi leaders to support Mr Hemopo's claim.

Mr Waaka said the current system prejudices the rights of Māori in terms of their tino rangatiratanga.

He said tāngata whenua were a taonga and should not be treated that way in their own country.

Mr Waaka said there was a high social and human cost that needed to be addressed and encouraged other iwi to support the claim.

The Corrections Department last week opened the refurbished Whanganui Community Corrections site which it said would help Maori offenders to stop re-offending, with its rehabilitation programmes relying heavily on tikanga principles.

Statistics New Zealand figures show the percentage of Māori convicted of offences was at its worst in 2014; for the first time since 1980, Māori made up a greater percentage of all convictions than Europeans, with 38.7 percent Māori compared to 38.3 percent European.

Mr Hemopo, who worked as a probation officer for 25 years before retiring in 2011, said the Department of Corrections had failed to find solutions with Māori and improve the dire statistics.

He said the department was responsible for actively discriminating against them.

Mr Waaka said the current justice system perpetuated a stereotype that Māori were inherently criminal.

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