Contents 2 Introduction: a fair go for all? 5



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Pacific peoples in the criminal justice system


Pacific people are also disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, though not to the same extent as Māori. Pacific people were estimated to make up seven per cent of New Zealand’s population in 2010,170 but made up 9.21 per cent of all people arrested and 11.31 per cent of all prisoners.171 In 2005, 48 per cent of Pacific offenders were sentenced for violent offences - this compared with 38 per cent and 25 per cent respectively for Māori and European offenders.172 Pacific men are seven times more likely to be convicted of violence than other men, four and a half times more likely to be convicted of offences against justice and three times more likely to be convicted of property offences.173

If there is a dearth of good-quality research to interpret the statistics and offer a more nuanced picture of the causes of Māori offending,174 this is even more the case for Pacific peoples.175 In his research into Māori conviction rates for domestic violence, researcher G. Raumati Hook also compared the conviction rates across a series of offences between Pākehā and Pacific peoples. His comparison shows that the rates for male assaults on females were more than five times that of Pākehā; the rate for traffic violations and non-violent sex offences was approximately twice as high, while drug-related offences were broadly similar.176 Hook argues that, as for Māori, the role of possible systemic bias in the lead-up to arrest and conviction needs to be much better understood.

This has implications for the policing of areas with large Pacific communities. Targeted police action has left a legacy of mistrust in Pacific communities. Webb traces, for example, the history of “Dawn Raids” against Pacific peoples carried out by the Police and immigration officials in the 1970s , a practice out of proportion with the actual incidence of offending. The raids were humiliating and insulting to Pacific communities and may be a factor in Pacific peoples’ mistrust of Police.177 In the present, barriers to responsiveness to Pacific peoples may include limited language ability on the part of Police and/or prior experience or perception by Pacific communities that they might suffer unfair treatment or racism.178

There have been some initiatives in the criminal justice system to incorporate Pacific values into the existing system and address both the high incidence of violent offending:



  • in 2002 the New Zealand Police published a strategy to increase Police responsiveness to the Pacific community. The report noted that the main concern for Pacific peoples is violent offending; that Pacific people are over-represented as violent offenders and as victims of violence179

  • following the model of the Rangatahi Courts, a Pasifika Youth Court that sits at a Pacific Cultural Centre in Mangere has been established (this is outlined in the case-study following this systemic analysis)

  • one Pacific Focus Unit, with a similar approach to the Māori Focus Units discussed in the case-study following this section, has been established at Spring Hill Correctional Facility. Named Vaka Fa'aola, the unit is supported by the local Pacific communities and prisoners must agree to a set of obligations before they are accepted180

  • the Pacific Focus Unit includes the Saili Matagi Violence Prevention Programme. The Saili Matagi therapeutic approach incorporates Pasifika Matua within the delivery of group work sessions to transfer the cultural values, beliefs and concepts that are familiar to men of Pasifika cultures.181

While these are welcome developments, a much more thorough evidence base needs to be developed to better understand the relationship between different Pacific communities and the criminal justice system. Statistics already suggest there need to be different priorities for Māori and Pacific services and programmes, and further community-led research could better determine how those services and programmes could be developed. Recent research commissioned by the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs on Pacific pathways to the prevention of sexual violence (2011),182 and community-led initiatives, such as the Nga Vaka o Kāiga Tapu (2012) Pacific framework developed to address family violence, are steps in the right direction.183

Developing successful responses to structural discrimination


In 2009 the Ministry of Justice published a literature review on bias in the justice system. The report found that although more research and evaluation is needed, features of successful responses include:

  • including ethnic minority and/or indigenous peoples as a central role in programme design, implementation and governance

  • adopting a holistic approach, looking beyond the remit of the criminal justice system to address structural inequalities more broadly

  • incorporating appropriate cultural components.184

The Pacific Advisory Group (PAG) that developed Nga Vaka o Kāiga Tapu – a Pacific framework for addressing family violence – reached similar conclusions. In particular, they recommended increasing ethnic workforce capability and capacity amongst practitioners and service providers (including both linguistic and cultural capability), and using a strengths-based – rather than deficit-based – approach. While emphasising conceptual similarities, the PAG were careful to distinguish concepts between Pacific communities and developed seven overlapping, but different, frameworks for Pacific communities.185
The Ministry of Justice concluded that a policy framework to address ethnic inequalities in the justice system should include:


  • responses directed towards reducing ethnic minority and/or indigenous offending and re-offending, including a broader focus on addressing the structural inequalities that contribute to differential offending rates

  • process-orientated responses aimed at enhancing cultural understanding and responsiveness within the justice sector, increasing the positive participation of indigenous and ethnic-minority people within the system, and increasing government accountability through the monitoring and publication of information related to rates of ethnic over-representation

  • policy-level responses that identify and seek to correct the disproportionate impact of neutral laws, structures, processes, and decision making criteria on particular ethnic-minority groups.186

We believe that a comprehensive approach to addressing ethnic disparities in the justice system must address systemic bias and structurally discriminatory practices.

There is, however, no ‘quick fix’ to improving the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and addressing the underlying causes of the disproportionate representation of Māori and Pacific peoples in prisons. In addition to central government intervention and leadership in addressing systemic bias, local government and community groups have crucial roles in preventing crime through encouraging strong parenting models, positive peer group interactions; providing support to at risk families and building communities’ ability to raise neighbourhood consciousness and address local conditions.



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