The crime rate in New Zealand is considerable for an uncrowded country where good living standards are attainable by all without a struggle. An indication of the prevalence of more serious crime is that in 1964, 1,420 persons were sentenced to detention for three months or more and 113 to imprisonment for three years or more or to preventive detention. Of all persons detained, 1,577 (43 per cent) were convicted of offences against property, compared with 1,035 (35·8 per cent) in 1956. Those sentenced to detention for sexual offences numbered 201 (5·6 per cent) in 1956 and 183 (5·8 per cent) in 1964. The ratio of prisoners to each 10,000 of the general population was 38·61 in 1890, 17·37 in 1928, and 15·38 in 1939, compared with 14·12 in 1964. This does not mean a corresponding reduction in the amount of crime, since before the First World War in particular many were sent to prison who would now be given probation, dealt with under the Child Welfare Act, or merely fined.
Riots, organised crime, and rackets are absent from New Zealand. Armed robbery is rare and the murder rate low. Bribery and corruption are not problems, either as distinct offences or as handicaps in dealing with offenders. On the other hand, assaults, disorderly conduct, and vandalism by larrikin groups, and many offences against property, are relatively common.
The extent of sexual crime is hard to judge because probably a considerable but unknown proportion of non-violent cases never comes to police notice. The number of rapes and violent assaults fluctuates widely. A bad feature two or three years ago was a number of multiple rapes of one victim. What does seem clear is that in New Zealand sexual crimes more readily arouse public emotion than do any others. A rise in the figures, however temporary, or a series of sensational incidents, produces widespread agitation for sterner and even savage punishments.
As elsewhere, crime among young people in New Zealand has increased. Despite liberal use of probation the number of those under 20 sentenced to detention rose from 343 in 1956 to 840 in 1964. The proportion of Maoris among younger offenders is particularly high. The crime rate among Maoris generally is much higher than among non-Maoris. Over 29 per cent of those sentenced to detention during 1964 were Maoris, while less than 6 per cent of the general population over 15 were Maoris. The principal reason for this appears to be the emigration of younger Maoris to the hitherto almost wholly European cities. The transition from an isolated and semi-communal rural society to the individualistic city way of life presents many with problems outside their experience. They may be bemused by different conditions and differing standards of values. An upsurge of crime in such circumstances is not peculiar to New Zealand. The problem is likely to persist with the continuing movement of Maoris to the larger towns; it is, however, more a social than a criminal one.