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Kelvin Davis: 'Ngāpuhi 'most incarcerated tribe in the world'

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 19/08/2018

© RNZ

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says his Ngāpuhi iwi is probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world and he has a goal to change that.

Tonight, the government's criminal justice summit kicks off at Parliament, before running for two days in Porirua, north of Wellington.

It will bring together all interested parties across justice, Corrections and police to talk about the government's plan for reform in the system, and how best to achieve it.

Mr Davis said Māori make up over 50 percent of the prison population, and he wants that number reduced.

"Of that 50 percent, half again, are from Ngāpuhi, my own tribe, so this is personal.

"My tribe of Ngāpuhi is probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world, per head of population, so we really have to look at what we're going to do differently as a country, to turn these figures around."

Mr Davis said Māori must be included in the conversation, and is pleased half of the justice advisory group, set up by the Justice Minister Andrew Little and headed by the former National MP Chester Burrows, are Māori.

"If Māori make up more than 50 percent of the prison population, we should actually be talking to Māori about what the solutions are too."

One of the big issues is institutional racism, and Mr Davis said he had been impressed with Police Commissioner Mike Bush's actions, in particular, in acknowledging unconscious bias in the police force.

"The question then becomes, 'so, what do we do about it?'

"Because if it's not unconscious bias, well then it's conscious bias and we've got to make changes to make sure that Māori aren't particularly picked on, or seen as the ones that are committing all the crime."

He points to an instance in the last year near his home up north, where people were incredibly upset about the imbalance of justice.

"A couple of families who could afford justice, actually got a form of justice. Whereas people who couldn't afford justice, for lesser offences, actually got a prison sentence. And that sort of stuff is not right."

Mr Davis said they were looking at all aspects of the system to make sure it was fair for everybody.

He said the justice summit this week is an opportunity for people from all parts of the system to have their say.

"We're expecting a lot of thought and a lot of ideas to come out of this, and we've got to sift through and see which ones are the best ones that can make a short term difference, medium and long term differences," he said.

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