Is there bias in our justice system?

A spate of serious crimes committed by Pākehā who escaped jail sentences has many on social media criticising whether the punishment would be harsher if the offenders were Māori.

Two commentators admit there’s bias at play but it does not lie with the judges who made these decisions.

“We don’t have a corrupt system,” says senior saw lecturer Khylee Quince. “The most bias occurs at the front end, in terms of the decision to stop, to question, to charge and arrest. You are filtered in and filtered out. That’s the bias against Māori.”

Quince appeared on Native Affairs on Māori Television alongside Scott Guthrie, who is the founder of the new advocacy group Transforming Justice Foundation.

The pair were responding to cases like the 2016 sentencing of Nikolas Delegat, who received a fine and community service after bashing a policewoman unconscious and last month two Dunedin teens received home detention for kicking and punching a man in a racially motivated attack.

Two-thirds of those jailed are Māori, who make up over fifty percent. Quince says home detention may not be an option for many Maori, due to high poverty rates.

“Home detention requires you to have a suitable home to go to. So the structural issues is one of poverty or whether or not you’ll be able to pay a fine or some fiscal compensation,” says Quince.

Guthrie says to stop the bias we have to focus on repetitive offending.

“We haven’t got a structure to stop repetitive offending from happening. And yes our prisons are over-represented by Maori and we need to address that problem. We’re not addressing that problem at the heart of it which is rehabilitation and intervention. If we can do that we will see a reduction of Māori offending.”