The cost of making culture reports for New Zealand court hearings is rising, but a Taranaki lawyer describes the document as an “invaluable” tool. (File photo)
As the costs of court culture reports are on the rise, an experienced defense attorney says they provide “invaluable” information not available from any other source.
Figures recently released by the Ministry of Justice under the Official Information Act show that a total of 2,328 reports, related to legal aid or the public defense service, were completed during the fiscal year ending June 30 of this year, for $5.91 million.
Spending is nearly double the volume and cost of 2020, when 1,557 culture reports were completed at a cost of $3.29 million.
Experienced New Plymouth defense attorney Julian Hannam described cultural reports as “invaluable tools” that helped the judge better understand the person standing before them.
“This is information that no one else is providing.”
* New “strong criteria” for cultural reporting following Department of Justice review
* The rise of cultural reporting in the New Zealand criminal justice system
* Advisors urge department to find funding for cultural reporting for offenders
Hannam said that for all of the offenders he represented, a cultural connection resulted in a reduced sentence.
He provided a range to Thingswhich ranged from 7% to 45% reduction, where offenders were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 2 to 11 years.
As the cost of cultural reporting increased due to increased demands, savings were expected to be made in the corrections budget at the other end if prison sentences were reduced.
It costs about $150,000 a year to keep someone behind bars.
Corrections, which has an annual operating budget of $1.8 billion, employs approximately 1,330 probation officers across the country, and one of their duties is to write pre-sentence reports for offenders.
Auckland-based lawyer Lynn Hughes, who previously worked at Taranaki, said that compared to pre-sentence reports, which could be four pages or less, and based on a checklist of questions, cultural reports provided a more robust account of an offender’s life, while recommending a personalized intervention plan.
“It’s more of a bespoke type of sentence where you can target. Most of the time it’s about breaking the cycle.
As a defense attorney, Hughes said she strives to get her clients back on the ‘right track’, but the broader goal of the justice system is ‘to prevent people from becoming victims. in the first place”.
Hughes said the trust and rapport a culture report writer often develops with an offender sometimes leads to the first disclosure of trauma or abuse, which opens the door to problem solving.
Corrections Chief Probation Officer Darius Fagan said while the pre-sentence reports were not detailed, they did outline sentencing options in court, as well as how they could be handled.
He said about 22,000 pre-sentence assessments were carried out on average each year and that the increase in requests for detailed cultural reports did not signal any problems with the work carried out by probation officers.
Fagan said staff have been trained to include social and cultural information in their reports, and justice surveys over the past two years have highlighted improvements in this area.
As probation officers were “not generally specialist evaluators”, the court had the option of requesting pre-sentencing expert reports that took into account factors such as mental health.
“Specialized cultural reports are no different from these.”
Meanwhile, Hughes said that although the ability to search for cross-cultural connections is enshrined in the Sentencing Act 2002 and the previous Criminal Justice Act, it hasn’t really gained prominence. only around 2016.
At this time, lawyers became more aware of the option, and there was also increased interest from the judiciary.