A former probation officer has blamed the Department of Corrections for not doing enough to address the high incarceration rate of Māori in prison.
An urgent hearing at the Waitangi Tribunal started Monday in Wellington to investigate Tom Hemopo’s claim that the Crown has breached the Treaty of Waitangi by failing to reduce Māori reoffending rates.
Mr Hemopo, who was a probation officer for more than 20 years, made the submission on behalf of Ngāti Maniapoto, Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu and pointed out that although Māori make up about 15% of the population they make up more than 50% of the prison muster (51% for men, 57% for women).
He also told the Tribunal that the recidivism rate for Māori is higher than other ethnicities with 64% of them being reconvicted within two years of being released from prison.
Current programmes targeting Māori were just “window dressing” he said and although there were dozens of Corrections programmes aimed at trying to address the issue, Mr Hemopo said there was no proof that they were actually working.
“Well it's hard to believe it because our reoffending rates have actually gone higher. And if they were effective then surely the reoffending rates would have come down,” he said.
Māori lawyer Moana Jackson was quick to back Mr Hemopo up.
“Well it appears the Crown is trying to create the impression that it has done a lot and there certainly had been lots of programmes and initiatives within Corrections, but the issue is are they affective? Do they work? Do they address the fundamental issues of why so many Māori are in prison? And clearly they don’t,” Mr Jackson said.
Dr Rawiri Waretini-Karena is the Programme Manager of Te Whiuwhiu o Te Hau at Waikato Institute of Technology (WINTEC) in Hamilton.
He told Te Karere that the high Māori imprisonment rate stems from colonisation.
“The evidence that I’m providing looks at Māori experiences with historical intergenerational trauma and it’s links to colonisation. And what I’m submitting is that these experiences also contribute to Māori crime and prison statistics,” Dr Waretini-Karena said.
The Crown argued with Mr Hemopo that there were a number of measures that were put in place including partnerships with iwi.
Crown lawyer Aaron Perkins said a ‘Māori Services Team’ was established within Corrections in 2012 a year after Mr Hemopo had retired, but Mr Hemopo said that none of the initiatives included Ngāti Kahungunu or Ngāti Maniapoto.
Mr Perkins tried to impress upon Mr Hemopo that Corrections had ‘wholeheartedly’ been trying its best to bring down Māori incarceration rates, but Mr Hemopo wouldn’t budge and said, “If the programmes were effective they have to reduce reoffending rates and they haven’t been reduced.”
Te Karere asked Tom Hemopo why he brought the case to the tribunal and replied with this Māori proverb, “Ki a au nei ka hoki ki te whakatauki: He aha te mea nui o te ao? Māku e kī atu, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.” (I revert to the proverb: What is the most important thing in the world? And I will tell you, it is people.”)
The hearing will run for the rest of the week.