The model fourth year medical students came up with to summarise their research

Māori perspectives on the justice system

They’re our whānau — a report in the making

Four weeks ago, more than 1,000 people answered our call for Māori perspectives on the justice system.

Here’s what we found:

  • Almost everyone agreed (90%) that structural racism (such as unconscious and conscious racial bias in police, lawyers, judges), colonisation (the forceful taking of land, language and culture from Māori) and intergenerational trauma (trauma that is transferred through generations) are the reasons there are far more Māori than non-Māori locked in our prisons.
  • Almost everyone thought people in prison should have the right to vote.
  • 76% agreed community-based interventions to prevent and reduce crime should be supported and funded instead of prisons, and 70% support a focus on interventions for taiohi (young people).
  • 65% support the 100-bed mental health facility planned for Waikeria, but 63% also said that prisons are not good places to provide mental health services.

“Effective health services are needed outside of prison. While I understand that prison is at times, the only place a person is able to get help, it also highlights the need for services prior.”

When we asked which interventions would be the most effective at preventing and reducing crime, here’s what this community said were the five most important:

  • Better mental health services (1042 participants or 79%)
  • Better drug, alcohol and addiction support services (1004 participants or 76%)
  • More jobs and higher wages (954 participants or 72%)
  • Better schooling (933 participants or 70%)

In short, we know the solutions to harm are healthy communities and preventative help, not handcuffs and prison.

Under the guidance of Whaea Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho, we teamed up with Otago University to research this kaupapa (cause) more deeply.

The justice system is a tool of colonisation.

Early on in the colonisation process, European settlers instigated policies that forcibly stole Māori identity, language, and whenua (land), and created a foreign system of justice that actively diminished the role of tikanga Māori (Māori values and customs or law) in restoring balance between those who had harmed, and those who had been harmed. Colonisation created a cycle of intergenerational trauma that still affects Māori today. The forceful taking of Māori land resulted in Māori having less resources and wealth than Pākehā and this unfair economic reality pushes more Māori toward acts of survival that get punished.

Institutional racism results in the state locking up more Māori than non-Māori.

The medical students’ research showed that social services, police, and courts hold an active bias against Māori, making decisions that more harshly punish Māori than non-Māori for the same crimes. This structural racism also continues to play a role in the forced removal of Māori children from whānau (families).

The prison system is a failure.

There were no prisons before colonisation, and prison structures do not fit with Te Ao Māori (the Māori world). Rehabilitation of those who have harmed does not occur through imprisonment.

Māori led community initiatives and policy will stop the violence of this system.

By returning rangatiratanga (sovereignty) to Māori, uplifting Māori culture, restoring te reo Māori and incorporating tikanga Māori in policy we can build a justice system that contributes to a fairer, more compassionate, Tiriti-honouring Aotearoa New Zealand.

  1. Build an educational website so we can get this research in front of as many people as possible;
  2. Work with researchers to develop effective messages so that our research shifts the hearts and minds of voters?
  • As well as being Māori, 47% also had Pākehā lineage, and 9% Pasifika
  • The majority of participants were aged 40–59 (47%)
  • 93% knew someone who had been to prison, and 62% had a whānau member incarcerated at the time they took the survey.
A word-cloud with names of the iwi of survey participants sized to represent the number of participants who are part of that iwi. Following the three most common iwi listed above are Tainui, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Ranginui, Te Rawara, Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi.
  • We will organise for the University of Otago medical students to present the full ‘They’re Our Whānau’ report at a public event in Wellington. We will invite the media, policy advisors and politicians.
  • We will review the way media are reporting on crime to find out how these myths are spread. We will use that research to inform best-practice messaging and make sure New Zealanders see accurate stories of our justice system and stop the rhetoric of fear preventing ambitious reform.
  • We will work with JustSpeak to mobilise compassionate New Zealanders to meet with their MPs and discuss the need for Māori-led alternatives to prison. These meetings will tautoko Matua Moana Jackson’s report on Māori and the criminal justice system to be released in November — an update of his 1988 work He Whaipaanga Hou.

We work together to create a society where people and planet are more important than profit and Te Tiriti o Waitangi is honoured.