Corrections failing Māori in jail - Treaty claim

6:38 pm on 25 July 2016

The Crown has tried to deflect blame for the high rates of reoffending by Māori in the prison system, saying it is making every effort to rehabilitate inmates.

The Waitangi Tribunal is hearing a claim by retired probation officer Tom Hemopo that the department is not doing enough to prevent reoffending by inmates. Mr Hemoporo worked for Corrections for 20 years.

Department of Corrections logo

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

In his opening submission on behalf of himself, Ngāti Maniapoto, Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu, Mr Hemopo pointed out Māori inmates made up more than half the prison population.

He said overall prison numbers were on track to reach 10,000, but the rehabilitation of Māori inmates was not happening or was ineffective, leading to high rates of reoffending.

He acknowledged the causes of offending were socio-economic, but said Corrections had a responsibility to inmates who were under its care.

The high rates of reoffending by Māori showed the department was failing in this responsibility, he said.

Read the urgent hearing submission here

Lawyers for the Crown questioned Mr Hemopo and highlighted the number of rehabilitation programmes Corrections ran and the considerable effort it had put into reducing reoffending.

But Mr Hemopo said these programmes were "beautiful words with no actions". He described the programmes as "ineffective" and said the recidivism rates for Māori had increased despite them.

The hearing is being held under urgency by the tribunal and will include submissions from criminal justice experts and Crown representatives.

Bill Wilson QC is on the tribunal panel and asked Mr Hemopo about the causes for offending versus reoffending.

Mr Hemopo said first time offending was caused by socio-economic factors while reoffending was caused by ineffective programmes and supervision of inmates while they were under the responsibility of Corrections.

The hearing is scheduled to run for a week.

The Tribunal will hear from experts in the criminal justice system as well as Crown submissions.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs