Thursday, October 29, 2009

Maori Party acts to protect its own ... criminals, that is

c Young men 'will fight back' against police, says Maori party
8:32AM Thursday Oct 29, 2009
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10606054

Background:
Yesterday the NZ Parliament passed the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill to enable police to take DNA swabs from any person they intend to charge with an imprisonable offence, from 2011. The vast majority of the House voted in favour of the bill, which was opposed only by the 13 MPS of the Green and Maori Parties.

The Situation:
According to the NZ Herald article, Rahui Katene of the Maori Party said that Maori youths would "of course" fight back if police attempt to take a swab without their consent. I'm still waiting to hear if this constitutes a violation of a person's mana or a lack of respect for Maori cultural traditions, which are the usual planks of any protest by Maori advocates when opposing any measure they don't happen to like. Ms Katene, whose concerns were echoed by new Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei (who has done one GREAT thing in her political career - her promotion to coleadership of the party directly resulted in Sue Bradford's resignation), both of whom suggested that the DNA database kept by police would become overwhelmingly Maori.

My view:
The use of DNA evidence in law enforcement has been a contentious issue for civil libertarians, all of whom seem to think that the police don't actually do anything except plant evidence at crime scenes just to make an arrest so they can knock off at five and have a drink at the pub. Personally, I think that the vast majority of law enforcement officials in this country are good, honest citizens who are trying to protect society. Collecting DNA from people they intend to charge for an offence makes sense - it could be that the DNA sample proves that person's innocence, but realistically the police would have to have some evidence with which to charge the suspected offender before taking the swab. A glance at NZ prison statistics () reveals that roughly 42% of current female inmates and 53% of men currently behind bars had already racked up 6 or more previous convictions, while only 25% of women and 17% of men in prison were there as a result of their first conviction. This suggests that crimes are more likely to be committed by existing criminals, already known to the justice system. Surely it makes sense to collect DNA samples from these people?
The Maori Party is concerned for obvious reasons - many Maori seem to have an affinity with Her Majesty's Correctional Facilities. According to the Ministry of Justice (), 45% of the male population of NZ prisons in 1995 were Maori, whereas only 10% of NZ's population at the time were Maori men. The report explains that:
"Part of the difference between Māori and non-Māori is accounted for by the younger age distribution of the Māori population, as young people in general are more likely to be offenders. However, the high percentage of Māori in prison also reflects higher offending rates (measured by the rate of prosecutions per head of population) and a greater number of previous convictions on average compared to other ethnic groups, and a greater average seriousness of offending compared to other ethnic groups with the exception of Pacific peoples."
The same report identified 49% of the female prison population as being of Maori descent.
Critics will point to the disparity in educational outcomes and socio-economic status as expalantions for this disproportionate figure, but I ahve never bought into that. Crime is crime, and there is no justification for it. I've never heard of anyone being sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread; offences leading to conviction are not acts of desperation but of calculation.
If the police intend to charge you with a crime and you have done nothing wrong, then you should be glad to give a DNA sample to clear your name. The only reason for not wanting to do so is because you have something to hide.

And that's my two cents to sense.

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