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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973


Drawing of a Maori family in handcuffs by Ray Mitchell

Institutional racism can only exist in a situation where the power is held by one group, as it is by pakehas in New Zealand. Decision making on matters which affect all New Zealanders is carried out entirely by pakehas, on the basis of pakeha values, life-styles and attitudes. Because it is impossible for pakehas to present the point of view of Maoris, Polynesian and other ethnic minorities, these groups are effectively denied any opportunity to influence the development of the society of which they are a part. Indeed, they are at present not able to determine even their own future.

The injustice of this situation is easily dismissed by pakehas, even liberals, on the grounds that either "we are all one people, so no-one is being left out" or "pakehas are in the majority so it is only natural that they dominate positions of power and make the important decisions". In fact, such blatantly racist attitudes are so deeply ingrained in pakeha thinking that most white New Zealanders fail even to notice that all positions of power in this society are held by pakehas, and that for this reason, apart from any other, this is a racist society.

The extent to which pakehas dominate decision-making, and thereby impose their standards upon society as a whole, is well illustrated by a power-analysis of the whole judicial system by race (see Diagram 1).

The proportion of Maoris in New Zealand prisons, borstals and detention centres far exceeds their representation in the community. This is partly due to the disproportionately high number of Maoris appearing before the courts and the fact that overall arrest and conviction rates for Maoris are higher than for pakehas.2 3 But also of considerable importance is the fact that the Maori offender in the pakeha court is discriminated against: culturally, because the court does not relate to his values and attitudes, and procedurally, because he so seldom receives legal advice or is represented in court by counsel.3 This discrimination, be it conscious or not, has led to the wrongful imprisonment of Maori offenders in the past and has thereby increased their numbers in those institutions.

A further breakdown of those sentenced to institutional punishment is given in diagram 2 from which it can be seen that although Maoris in general are at a disadvantage in the courts, the situation of Maori children is particularly serious. While 43.2% of those appearing in children's courts are Maoris, 60.5% of all children sentenced to borstal training are Maoris and 56.2% of children sentenced to prison are Maoris. In 1971, for example, an average of one 15-year-old Maori per week was sent to borstal

This is true even though there is no evidence that Maori children commit worse crimes or have longer records, and even though the Maori child faces, on average, slightly fewer charges than does the pakeha child. Similarly, in the Magistrate's court whereas 32% of the total offenders are Maori, they are sentenced in disproportionately high numbers to penal institutions.

The only exception is seen in sentencing to periodic detention — both Maori children and Maori adults are under-represented in this category. However, a sentence to periodic detention is regarded as a 'light' sentence compared with the jail sentence which it replaces.