Number of Māori women locked up in New Zealand prisons 'shameful' - law academic Moana Jackson

Hundreds gathered for the Government's Criminal Justice Summit today, exploring alternatives to the current justice system. 

Hundreds are gathered for the three day summit in Porirua. Source: 1 NEWS

The Criminal Justice Summit aims to bring victims of crime and justice experts together, to look at reforming the justice sector. 

The high number of Māori is a key focus of the summit, with senior Ministers admitting failure by previous governments that were said to have opted for a 'lock 'em up' approach. 

Māori law academic Moana Jackson suggested 'bold' policy change, including looking beyond the prison wire, and instead at the rehabilitation of inmates. 

"I think there's a fear of change in the criminal justice system," Dr Jackson told 1 NEWS. 

He said there was a "disjoint" between the crime rate lowering and the incarceration rate increasing.

"I think one of the most distressing parts of what is happening with the prison population is the high rate of imprisonment of Māori women.

He said Māori women are among the most imprisoned in the world. "I think that's a shameful figure. We should be thinking seriously about how we can remedy that."

During the summit Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis told the story of Sam, a 60-year-old man who spent almost 50 years in a gang.

"We took that 10-year-old boy, scared and confused... we threw him into the system and it spat out a broken young man with nowhere to turn but a life in the gang," Mr Davis said.

National's justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell said his concern was the summit could become a "talk-fest". 

"It's important that people have an opportunity to say how they feel and make a contribution but a format like this... is not the place to do it."

He said National will work with the Government, "if the Government can identify some clear gains and good policies". 

"If we can make a much earlier intervention in people's lives... let the Government get involved earlier... to give those kids a real chance."

"It's too late, once they've entered the criminal justice system, a lot of the damage is already done."

He said National had taken a "strong, holistic approach in terms of making sure we have very strong laws" along with rehabilitation programmes.