By Meriana Johnsen, for RNZ
Sentences for isolation escapees should take circumstances into account, a law academic says, after a woman was jailed for two weeks for escaping with her children to attend their father's tangi.
The 37-year-old woman was jailed yesterday for fleeing an isolation facility in Hamilton with her whānau on July 24 so they could see the tūpāpaku (body of the deceased) of their father.
Their compassionate exemption application and an alternative arrangement for the father's body to be brought to Hamilton had both been declined.
Another man who escaped the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton to buy alcohol received a 40-hour community service sentence.
Associate professor of law at AUT Khylee Quince said the different outcomes in the cases should not be taken "at face value and immediately assume racism".
Quince said sentencing judges should "treat like cases alike", to ensure there was consistency across similar wrongdoings.
"In looking at that consistency, they also need to consider not just the offence but also the offender, which includes the circumstances of the offender, not just what they've done.
"We've got a Pākehā man who had already been giving the hotel manager isolation staff trouble, he was violent in terms of destroying a television in his room ... [then] he escaped to buy alcohol, so there's nothing that, I don't think, warrants any empathy there."
"Comparing that to the woman who escaped with her children in order to view the tūpāpaku of [their] father ... obviously we have a lot of sympathy for that."
She said the mother's jail sentence was about "sending a message during a pandemic" of "denunciation and deterrence".
"Whereas I think in relation to the man, he potentially deserved 'specific deterrence' which is where you've done something wrong and you did it on more than one occasion ... but my personal view is I don't think either of them should have received a jail sentence," Quince said.
Government minister Grant Robertson said he was unable to comment on judges' rulings, when asked at a media stand-up in Wellington today if he thought unconscious bias or racism was a factor in the different sentences.