A “prison abolitionist” advocacy group has hit out at the Government’s decision to end taxpayer funding for Section 27 pre-sentencing cultural background reports.
During the campaign, National promised to strip funding from the reports, while ACT wanted to go further and remove Section 27 from the Sentencing Act altogether.
Currently, at pre-sentencing, lawyers can apply for legal aid to produce a report under Section 27 of the Sentencing Act that would consider how an offender’s personal, family or cultural background may have contributed to their offending.
“In recent years, the development of Section 27 reports has turned into a cottage industry, costing taxpayers millions and doing nothing for the victims of crime,” Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith said yesterday, confirming the move.
People Against Prisons Aotearoa said this morning that the decision was “racist”.
“Pre-sentencing reports are a helpful tool for judges to make informed sentencing decisions,” said spokesperson Emmy Rākete.
“Removing legal aid funding for reports will result in more ill-informed and inappropriately long prison sentences.”
Rākete argued that axing public funding for cultural reports would disproportionately impact Māori and working class people.
“There is no fiscal argument for ending cultural report funding—they pay for themselves by reducing state spending on incarceration.”
Goldsmith disagreed. He said yesterday: “$40,000 was spent on Section 27 reports in 2017. In the last financial year, this had increased to more than $7 million. If National hadn’t raised this issue, costs would have kept on growing.
“These reports have also led to further discounts at sentencing.”
The Green Party also hit out at the coalition over its announcement.
“What National won’t tell you is that without the sort of information included in a cultural report, the risk of future offending is likely to be higher than it would be otherwise,” courts spokesperson Tamatha Paul said.
“For decades, governments have created a justice system that ignores drivers of crime and instead puts people in prisons with inadequate rehabilitation support.”
But ACT’s justice spokesperson Todd Stephenson celebrated the move.
“Finally, the scales of justice are shifting away from rights for criminals and back toward rights for victims.
“ACT has pushed to scrap Section 27 reports entirely,” he said. “The reports elevate the excuses of the criminal when we should be centring the impacts on the victim.”
This morning on Breakfast, Labour MP Ginny Andersen said the reports were important to prevent reoffending, and for the rights of the victim.
“The victim also gets a pathway of getting their views into the courtroom. While National talks about empowering victims and victims rights, taking away these is actually doing the opposite.”
Andersen said the homicide rate in New Zealand “doubled” over Christmas, and the scrapping of these initiatives will not help the crime rate.