This is a critical issue that needs looking at. Being in remand cuts off women from their whanau and children and can have a serious impact on children, which is why we run Mothers Project through the Who Did You Help Today charitable trust.
An estimated 85% of the women in prison are mothers and given that our Mothers Project volunteer lawyers have worked with over 700 mothers since the project began in 2015, we suspect that statistic is higher. Many of those women were their children’s caregiver at the time of their offending. Being remanded into custody leads to custody and access issues as to children - which can also be really challenging to grapple with when a mother is released. It’s not just a mother’s life that gets up-ended, her children serve that remand time too.
The really concerning aspect of all this is that while there certainly are exceptions, government research tells us that children of imprisoned parents are statistically much more likely to head to prison at some point themselves.
Excerpt from NZ Herald article:
Almost half of the women imprisoned in New Zealand have not been convicted of the crime that is keeping them behind bars.
A sweeping 2013 law change designed to create greater bail hurdles for violent offenders has had an outsize effect on women, and Māori women in particular.
At the time, 933 women, 558 of whom were Māori, were remanded in custody. Six years later 1836 women, including 1194 Māori, were remanded.
The changes were supposed to target offenders such as those who killed teenagers Christie Marceau and Augustine Borrell- who were both on bail at the time.
These figures don't come as a shock to Wellington defence lawyer Ngaroma Tahana.
She said the increasing remand level was a symptom of the racial prejudices that have plagued Māori women since colonisation.
"More and more I'm seeing bail opposition, and those oppositions are not always backed up by sound evidence. So it can be enough for Police to say they have concerns about drug issues or children being in the house without providing any supporting evidence."
Within that, she said often the location of bail addresses was the problem, which were a huge issue for the people concerned because that can be where their tamariki are.
Former prisoner Patricia Walsh knows the effects of extended remands too well, she spent 12 months on remand for a non-violent charge.
"Remand is actually a bigger punishment than imprisonment, you know, once you get a term of imprisonment you know what you've got, you know there's an end date. But when you're on remand, you don't know how long you'll be there. It's a painful place to be."
Corrections said counselling services were available to prisoners on remand on a case-by-case basis and depended on the individual's situation and needs.
Ministry of Justice chief operating officer Carl Crafar said the number of people being remanded was determined by judicial decisions, while the time on remand is primarily driven by how long their case takes to be resolved in court which is effected by a range of things.
"This is increasing due to later guilty pleas in the criminal court process; a lack of sufficient resources to deal with the additional court hearings; and an increase of category three cases, which are more serious and require more court events."