Race & Law in New Zealand.

We recently discussed in class how there is an over-representation of minorities in prison, specifically black men. Jim and Nancy Petro visited our class shortly after and shared the fact that the United States has the largest amount of incarcerations, with 7 million adults in correctional facilities–2.2 million of those adults being in prison. These numbers are astounding, and I do not wish to downplay the severity of the statistics at all. However, during these discussions I kept thinking back to my time abroad in New Zealand. We had a discussion about the criminal justice system in one of my courses and the issue of minority over-representation in correctional facilities came up there as well, so there have been a lot of similarities that I have noticed. It made me realize that the race-related problems that occur in the United States are not an isolated incident–issues of race take place in a similar fashion all around the world.

A few things to know about New Zealand…
• The indigenous people of New Zealand are the Māori.
• There is much debate about a concept called “preventive detention”. This is a form of confinement that is put in place in addition to a criminal offender’s given incarceration period due to the belief that the offender is highly likely to re-offend after being released. (More here.)
• New Zealand abolished capital punishment in 1962 for all offenses but treason, and it was removed from the act of treason in 1989. (More on the history of capital punishment in NZ can be found here or here.)

An excerpt from a Criminal Justice Report in 2009 (available as a file download here) highlights how race plays a part in the NZ criminal justice system:

“Māori are of special interest within the criminal justice system because they are the indigenous people of New Zealand and are also over-represented within the system. Māori represent roughly half of all criminal justice offenders and victims, a proportion far greater than would be expected for the size of the population. There is an urgent need to address this over-representation for the benefit of Māori and New Zealand society as a whole.”

This excerpt highlights how, just like in the United States, the minority population is represented in the criminal justice system far more than would be expected.

Wrongful conviction was something else that the Petros touched on. Instances of wrongful conviction can also be found in New Zealand. A recent example is the story of Teina Pora, a Māori man who served 22 years in prison for the brutal rape and murder of a woman named Susan Burdett. (Full story.)

Racial tensions have increased recently in the United States, but the issues of race are not unique to the United States. Spending a short amount of time in New Zealand showed me that there are instances of both overt and passive racism toward minorities, and further study revealed that their country has many of the same challenges when it comes to race and the legal system.


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