Ki te arotu1 toward a new assessment: the identification of cultural factors which may pre-dispose māori to crime

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Kristen Maynard, Senior Policy Adviser

Branko Coebergh, Senior Psychologist

Brendan Anstiss, Psychologist

Leon Bakker, Senior Psychologist

Terry Huriwai, Probation Officer

Department of Corrections


Māori over-representation in the criminal justice system has been a concern to the Māori community and justice-sector government agencies for some time now. The nature and magnitude of this issue emphasises the need to put into place effective strategies and policies to address offending and re-offending by Māori. Integral to this is the accurate identification of risk factors that pre-dispose Māori to crime.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss a current initiative by the Department of Corrections to develop a more effective means of identifying the rehabilitative needs of the New Zealand offender population - the Criminogenic Needs Inventory (CNI). A substantial component of the CM focuses on measuring a number of unique Māori culture-related needs (MaCRNs). This paper examines the utility of including distinct cultural factors within a generic needs assessment process and explores the potential implications that such an approach could have for the development of more effective policy to address offending by Māori.


The main objective of the Department of Corrections is to contribute to safer communities by reducing re-offending. In addition, one of its key result areas is the "recognition of the particular needs of Māori in terms of reducing re-offending" (Department of Corrections 1997). In order to achieve this, the Department is in the process of developing systems and procedures, which are in accordance with empirically derived principles of "best practice". Best practice in this context refers to assessment based upon the current psychological models of criminal behaviour that are most strongly supported by empirical evidence. The Psychology of Criminal Conduct (Andrews and Bonta 1994) is the theoretical model which the Department of Corrections uses as the basis for guiding its best practice approach to assessment, and other areas of offender management. Consistent with this theory is the comprehensive assessment of offenders according to the three principles of risk, need and responsivity. The assessment, evaluates offenders' risk of further offending (risk principle), and assesses them with respect to (among other things) their need for intervention (need principle), and whether there are rehabilitative programmes that best suit the individual's particular learning style (responsivity principle).

The risk principle holds that intervention is most effective when it targets individuals who have the greatest risk of further criminal offending. The needs principle asserts that there are certain aspects of an individual's functioning - such as substance abuse and criminal attitudes and associates - which should be targeted by intervention in order to reduce subsequent offending. A key feature of these "needs" is that they are potentially changeable. The responsivity principle states that offenders will be most affected by interventions that are matched to their particular learning style (Andrews and Bonta 1994).
A systematic, objective and accurate assessment of the individual's offence-related functioning, termed "criminogenic needs", is seen as essential in order for the appropriate targeting of rehabilitative efforts (Andrews and Bonta 1994). Criminogenic needs are features of an offender's personality, lifestyle, and social circumstances, which have been linked to the risk of re-offending (ibid. 1994). Although the last decade has seen a proliferation of studies which attest to the accurate measurement of criminogenic needs as a means of assessing any given individual's potential to re-offend, there has been little information that is directly applicable to the New Zealand context. Moreover, while there is general consensus among North American researchers as to what constitutes criminogenic needs (Andrews and Bonta 1994, Motiuk 1997), there is less agreement as to how such areas within the individual should be assessed (Coebergh et al. 1999).
Limitations of previous tools (such as the failure to take into account cultural differences) were seen to potentially undermine the Department's ability to identify the most effective means for rehabilitating New Zealand offenders (Coebergh et al. 1999). As such, it was recommended that a New Zealand inventory be developed to identify criminogenic needs that were both relevant and applicable to a distinctly New Zealand offender population (McLean 1998).

The Criminogenic Needs Inventory (CNI)

The CNI is a needs assessment tool that the Department of Corrections is currently in the process of developing. The creation of such a tool was seen as necessary in order to address the limitations of using overseas risk assessment and needs assessment instruments, and also to take into account distinct societal differences and the cultural diversity amongst the New Zealand offender population. The CNI has advantages over previous assessment instruments in that it:

  • focuses on detailed behavioural patterns (thoughts, feelings, actions, physiological reactions) and the contexts within which they occur closest in time to and during the commission of the offence;

  • focuses on the broader habitual behavioural patterns during the six months leading up to the offence (for example alcohol and drug use);

  • derives evidence for offender needs from these two periods of time;

  • judges offender needs to be criminogenic only when evidence can be found that causally links them to the behaviour most directly associated with the offence (for example the thinking and associated feelings that supported the offence just prior to and during its commission);

  • assesses the current level of severity1 once a criminogenic need has been identified; and

  • assesses severity against set criteria that relate to both responsivity barriers (such as motivation) and the offender's ability to self-manage a criminogenic need. (The latter draws upon broad relapse-prevention principles).

The criminogenic needs measured by the CNI reflect those commonly identified by psychological theory and research (Andrews and Bonta 1994), such as alcohol and drug abuse, criminal associates, and offence-related emotions and cognitions. The method of assessing these needs draws upon cognitive-behavioural theory and practice. A fundamental principle of this approach is that the explanation for problem behaviour requires a thorough assessment of what happened during the occurrence of that behaviour. As such, it assumes that an individual's thoughts, feelings, actions, and physical responses that occur closest in time to a problem behaviour will better explain it than those that occurred at a more distant point in time (Beck 1995).

Consistent with cognitive-behavioural theory, the CNI provides a structured assessment process that investigates two discrete periods of time in relation to the offending behaviour. The first is referred to as the offending period: it begins the day before the offence and finishes at the completion of the offence. The second is referred to as the predisposing period - the six months preceding the offending period (Coebergh et al, 1999). It is assumed that any residual effects of early childhood experiences, if relevant, would still be affecting the functioning of the individual within the six-month period.


Whilst Māori make up about 15% of the general population they constitute approximately half of the New Zealand offender population (Spier 1998, New Zealand Community Probation Service 1998a, 1998b). Recent statistics highlight that Māori account for an estimated 49% of male sentenced inmates as at 20 November 1997, 43.8% of whom identify as Māori only (Spier 1998). Of the female sentenced inmates, an estimated 55% are Māori, 42% of whom identify as Māori only (Ibid 1998).

In the Community Probation Service, Māori males account for an estimated 41% of the offender population as at 31 August 1998 (New Zealand Community Probation Service 1998a). Māori females represent an estimated 47% of females on community-based sentences and parole (New Zealand Community Probation Service 1998b).
Despite these alarming statistics little research has been undertaken in New Zealand to understand why Māori are so clearly disproportionately represented and how to go about addressing this disparity. However, despite the dearth of information available, there is some research (Jackson 1988) that has assisted with a better understanding of Māori over-representation in the criminal justice system.
Jackson (1988) suggests that the process of colonisation contributed to widening the socioeconomic disparities amongst Māori and non-Māori and was also directly associated with the deprivation and denigration of Māori culture. Such devastating consequences arising from colonisation were shown to be associated with an increase in Māori vulnerability toward crime. Jackson also highlighted the particular bias of systemic responses to Māori (for example, policing bias and judicial sentencing trends) which increased the likelihood of negative Māori entry into the criminal justice system.
As a partial response to addressing the over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system, the Department of Corrections has conducted some research into identifying risk factors which uniquely pre-dispose Māori to crime. Consequently, the Department has included a Māori-specific component in the CNI. Previously, tools utilised by the Department for assessing the needs of offenders were based on instruments developed and tested in overseas jurisdictions. Such tools have had limited utility in New Zealand as the inherent assumptions underlying such tools have been based on a "western empiricist" cultural perspective that assumes that there are universal values, beliefs, and attitudes (Thakker and Ward 1998). Further, the failure of these tools to take into account societal and cultural differences inevitably limits the effectiveness of the tool for identifying all of the factors that pre-dispose New Zealand offenders (and particularly Māori offenders) to crime.

Rationale for the Recognition of Cultural Differences

A recent Departmental study (cited in Maynard 1999) identified a number of possible cultural factors that were likely to contribute to the offending behaviour of Māori and their ability to modify this behaviour. In order to increase the accuracy of risk/need prediction amongst Māori, it was identified in that study as imperative that these cultural differences were adequately recognised and provided for. Experience in other sectors (such as Health) has also shown that there are specific cultural factors unique to Māori that can influence the effectiveness of treatment (Te Pmanawa Hauora 1995, Huriwai et al. 1998).

In addition, a number of evaluations of predominantly tikanga-Māori-based initiatives and programmes have been undertaken or contracted by the Department of Corrections (Bird 1998, Cram et al. 1998, Thomas et al. 1998, Garvin 1999). Although these evaluations are primarily "process" and "formative" types of evaluations, they consistently highlight the fact that focussing on specific cultural needs (such as fostering a positive cultural identity, assisting whānau relationships, and promoting collectivity) can have positive effects with Māori offenders. Cultural approaches to programme intervention have provided early indications of success in changing Māori offenders' attitudes and behaviours, promoting pro-social lifestyle changes, and increasing their receptiveness to other rehabilitative programmes. These approaches are also wholly consistent with the identification of specific and unique Māori culture-related need.
The concept of Māori culture-related needs (MaCRNs) has been developed on the basis that there are specific and unique needs to Māori offenders, which are characterised by culture and the place of that culture in New Zealand society (Maynard 1999). Failure to recognise these distinct cultural needs is likely to contribute to an inappropriate and incomplete assessment of the risk of re-offending, rehabilitative needs, and responsivity factors relevant to Māori offenders. Consequently, it is assumed that in order to effectively identify and seek solutions to addressing offending and re-offending by Māori, assessment tools must provide for these Māori-specific needs.
Four potential MaCRNs have been identified so far. These are:

  • Cultural identity;

  • Cultural tension;

  • Whānau (extended family); and

  • Whakawhānaunga (formation of whānau-like relationships).

The MaCRNs are likely to be modified in the process of undertaking further research and in conjunction with broader consultation. Finalisation of the MaCRNs within the CNI, and their measurement, will also require ongoing monitoring and refinement.

Process of Development

McLean (1998) conducted a preliminary evaluation of assessment tools being used by the Department for their relevance in predicting the risk and needs of the New Zealand offender population. The study concluded that these assessment instruments successfully reflected the criminal activity in New Zealand offenders. However, it simultaneously identified that some items within these assessment instruments appeared to introduce error in the prediction of risk and that further refinement and adaptation of the tool was needed to improve prediction performance in the interim, until a New Zealand-specific tool was developed.

In response to the findings of this study, the Department of Corrections began developing the CNI in mid-1998. Given that Māori constitute the majority of the offender population it was recognised that, for the tool to be effective in identifying criminogenic needs, it would also need to be culturally responsive. As such, after five months of development a group of Departmental staff (including psychologists, cultural advisers and Māori policy analysts) was formed to discuss how the tool could reflect Māori cultural perspectives.
One of the main outcomes of the focus group was the recognition that there were potential cultural factors unique to Māori offenders. It was suggested that the CNI would need to incorporate these in order to ensure that the assessment process would identify all of the factors that may pre-dispose Māori to crime. Consequently, the group came to a general understanding that there was utility in developing and incorporating distinct Māori cultural factors or needs into a generic assessment tool. It was emphasised that these areas of need would have to be developed in parallel to the CNI, and in consultation with relevant Māori experts (such as those with knowledge and experience in kaupapa Māori research, cultural assessments, and psychological assessments of Māori offenders). The difference of approach to developing the MaCRNs as opposed to the rest of the CNI was seen as integral to their effectiveness. Consequently, the MaCRNs were developed quite independently from the CNI and derived from a Māori theoretical and philosophical base.

Once the MaCRNs were developed, an attempt was made to incorporate these into the format and structure of the CNI. This alignment process did not present any major difficulties as the CNI is a structured assessment tool that explores an offender's thoughts, feelings, actions, and physiological responses related to offending behaviour. As such, it was not the concepts that were being challenged but rather the way in which these were to be measured and interpreted. The MaCRNs have therefore introduced a different perspective into how assessment is to be conducted by factoring in cultural differences.


As described earlier, four Māori culture-related needs were consequently identified through a combination of research and consultation with key informants. The following section provides a brief description of the MaCRNs, how these are to be "measured", and their possible relationship with offending behaviour.

Cultural Identity

A study undertaken in 1996 highlighted the particular significance and relevance of cultural identity to Māori. Amongst its preliminary conclusions the study suggested a positive correlation between having a secure cultural identity and other areas of social and economic wellbeing (Te Hoe Nuku Roa 1996). For example, the report suggested that a secure cultural identity appeared to afford some protection against poor health, and was more likely to be associated with educational participation and with positive employment profiles. The corollary appeared to be that reduced access to the Māori world was more likely to be associated with social and economic disadvantage (Durie 1996).

In relation to offending behaviour, a secure cultural identity could similarly assist with positive behavioural change amongst Māori offenders. Support for such a proposition is signalled by research on effective corrections programmes for Māori. For example, the International Research Institute for Māori and Indigenous Education (1999) found, in its analysis of comments from programme providers, prison staff and inmates that, "cultural identity was the starting point for assisting with the promotion of behavioural change amongst Māori".
It has also been suggested that the level of confusion a Māori offender has about their identity appears to be an important variable to consider. Such confusion could lead to the further development of negative emotions such as anger and frustration, in addition to anti-social thoughts and feelings, such as a negative image of one's self (Couture 1994 cited in McFarlane-Nathan 1996). Consequently, such negative emotions and cognitions could increase an individual's vulnerability toward crime. In contrast, it is arguable that an individual who understands and appreciates who they are as Māori, and whose perception of being Māori derives from a Māori cultural base (as opposed to negative macho images portrayed in the media), is more likely to find the necessary resources within to work toward changing their offending behaviour.
The CNI therefore measures cultural identity in two ways. It assesses how strongly an individual identifies as Māori, and the individual's perception of what being Māori constitutes. This is to be assessed on the basis of how proud and comfortable the offender feels about their identity as Māori and their perception of what constitutes pride and comfort.

Cultural Tension

Contemporary New Zealand society has developed primarily from Western/European- based norms, despite the fact that Māori are recognised as the tangata whenua of this country. Māori culture has been generally compromised and discouraged in the process of colonisation and it is likely that a number of stressors and/or tensions have developed in connection with differences in cultural values and beliefs both between Māori and non-Māori, and amongst Māori (Maynard 1999). Further, the lack of positive coping skills for dealing with such tension is likely to promote maladaptive responses which could include cognitions and behavioural patterns that increase the individual's risk of re-offending (Coebergh et al. 1999).

The CNI focuses on the level of distress a particular cultural tension has created for the offender and the ways in which the offender typically deals with such tension.


An exclusive focus on factors directly related to individual offending, without examining environmental influences, will not of itself reduce offending levels as it does not address factors which reinforce that person's offending behaviour (Maynard 1999). Whānau therefore becomes a critical focus when attempting to understand all the factors that may precipitate and perpetuate Māori offending.

Metge (1995) and Hirini (1997) argue that the concept of whānau and its underlying values is discernibly different from western perceptions of family and family values. For example, Durie (1994a) suggests that the western ideal of being able to stand alone and be independent is actually an unhealthy position from a Māori perspective where interdependence has been encouraged. In addition, it appears that collective identity, responsibility and reciprocity are predominant components of Māori whānau relationships (Durie 1994b). Such deeply embedded cultural concepts open up understandings about the (positive or negative) impact that whānau may have on offending behaviour.
The Māori whānau of today has suffered a lot in the process of colonisation. Breakdown in customary whānau structures, values and strengths has led to a loss of discipline, values and role models for Māori youth to emulate. Such deprivation and emotional frustration often manifest themselves in alcoholism, violence, academic under-achievement and crime (Jackson 1988).
The CNI therefore attempts to recognise the unique nature and circumstances that largely define contemporary Māori whānau relationships by measuring whānau-related need in three ways. First, the CNI assesses the level of distress due to limited communication with whānau. Second, it measures the nature and extent to which the whānau may socially endorse or practically support offending behaviour. And finally, the CNI attempts to identify incidents affecting the whānau that have influenced the offender's personal functioning.


Whakawhānaunga is a cultural concept of particular significance to Māori (Hakiaha 1997). It emphasises the notion of mutual responsibility and obligation to the wider group and provides a sense of collective identity. Such beliefs are premised upon customs that form an integral part of Māori society (Durie 1985).

Given the dynamics of whakawhānaunga, there appears to be a strong inclination for Māori (as a distinctly collective culture) to seek membership in a larger group which will provide a sense of identity and belonging to that individual, particularly where whānau support may be lacking. For example, against the background of not aligning with mainstream society, becoming a member of a gang could provide a sense of importance and belonging that an individual may feel they lack in their lives (Maynard 1999). Whakawhānaunga therefore offers a broad explanation as to why some Māori offenders tend to form associations with anti-social gangs, where there is an absence of pro-social whānau support. Membership in such a group increases substantially the likelihood that criminal behaviour will be socially endorsed and/or practically supported (Coebergh et al. 1999).
The CNI therefore focuses on identifying relationships that an offender has with those whom they consider to be like a whānau. CNI considers how these relationships may precipitate, perpetuate and maintain offending behaviour.

Potential Functional Relationships

The potential relationship between each of the MaCRNs and subsequent offending has been broadly conceptualised in two ways:

  • Anti-Social Attitudes. The following factors can contribute to the development of offence-related emotions and cognitions:

  • negative thoughts and feelings about an individual's identified Māori cultural identity,

  • the tension between their identified Māori culture, values, and beliefs, and the predominant culture, values, and beliefs, and

  • isolation from Māori cultural constructs (see Figure 1).

  • Anti-Social Associates. Isolation from, or rejection of, identified Māori culture or a lack of pro-social Māori whānau support can increase the likelihood of membership in anti-social or pro-criminal groups. Membership in such groups subsequently raises the risk that criminal behaviour will be socially endorsed and/or practically supported (see Figure 2).

Figure 1 Anti-Social Attitudes

Negative thoughts and feelings associated with:

  • Cultural Identity

  • Cultural Tension

  • Lack of whānau contact

  • Whānau-related stress

Others impacting upon their relationship with a whānau-like group

Development of offence-related emotions and cognitions


Figure 2 Anti-social Associates

Isolation from or rejection of Māori culture

Lack of pro-social Māori

Whānau support

Membership to anti-social/pro-criminal groups

Criminal behaviours:



White the functional relationship between each of the MaCRNs and offending behaviour appears promising, further research on Māori offenders is required to test whether the tool provides an accurate measurement of need (validity) and is capable of producing similar results when administered on the same persons by different assessors (reliability). The Department of Corrections is currently initiating this research which will be undertaken in two prison settings Wellington and Christchurch

Establishing how well the CNI/MaCRNs works amongst Māori is an important first step in an ongoing process of identifying more effective means for reducing re-offending by Māori. In this context it is important to note that the MaCRNs only provide a broad indication of specific cultural rehabilitative targets. Ongoing research will also need to be

undertake to:

  • identify potential barriers to the assessment process (such as interviewer bias);

  • capture cultural, gender, generation, demographic and tribal differences amongst Māori in order to more effectively identify interventions which will be best suited to the particular learning style of the offender (responsivity);

  • develop interventions which will effectively target Māori rehabilitative needs; ensure that appropriate post-support mechanisms are in place to assist with the maintenance of behavioural change; and

  • identify the additional value that the MaCRNs provide to the CNI for predicting the risk of re-offending by Māori over the CNI without the MaCRNS.


The CNI has the potential to produce a number of benefits for the development of policy relevant to Māori. Most significantly, it should provide:

  • More and better information on the factors which precipitate, perpetuate, and maintain offending by Māori. The CNI should better inform the development of Policy in providing a more complete indication of the variables (such as social, Psychological, and cultural) that pre-dispose Māori to offending behaviour. That will assist the development of more effective policies and strategies, across a broad range of Social services, to prevent negative Mori entry and re-entry into the criminal Justice System

  • Effective and efficient targeting of resources. The CNI is capable of measuring Change over time in the severity of criminogenic needs. This means that the CNI can measure how effective an intervention has been in reducing the severity of an identified criminogenic need. As such, the CNI should identify those interventions that are most effective in changing problem behaviour. This will in turn assist with ensuring that resource allocation is both effective and efficient.

  • Clarification of roles and responsibilities amongst government agencies. One of the barriers to the maintenance of behavioural change is the lack of clarity in the roles and responsibilities that each government agency plays with respect to reducing offending and re-offending by Māori. The CNI should assist with providing greater clarity regarding the types of strategies and policies that will need to be developed to sustain behavioural change, and whose role and responsibility it should be to do this. For example, in relation to whānau-related need, the roles and responsibilities of policy agencies could be identified at three levels - the individual, the relationship between the individual and the whānau, and the whānau itself. Consequently, the Department of Corrections may be fully responsible for developing policy that will promote individual behavioural change, partly responsible for policy initiatives aimed at strengthening the relationship between the individual and the whānau, and responsible (to a limited extent) for policies targeting the whānau itself. Responsibility for developing policy to address the contemporary issues facing the whānau may be more appropriately undertaken by other agencies.

  • The opportunity to work collaboratively to reduce offending and re-offending by Māori. It is likely that the information derived from the CNI will present an opportunity to work more collaboratively, with other government agencies and Māori organisations, toward the common goal of reducing offending and re-offending by Māori. A number of benefits could result from adopting this approach. For example, duplication of policy work would be minimised, broader societal factors that disadvantage Māori (such as discrimination and institutional racism) could be sufficiently acknowledged in policy development, and strategies to prevent negative Māori entry into the criminal justice system could be improved. The information will also be a significant resource for Māori organisations in their own policy decisions and service development.

  • Consistency in the development, implementation, and evaluation of policy relevant to Māori. Key cultural needs identified by the CNI provide a starting point for recognising and providing for specific cultural differences in all policy impacting on Māori. Previously, cultural differences have not been adequately recognised in the development of policy, and this has led to the production of inappropriate policy for Māori. To improve this situation, it is necessary to have frameworks for taking into account cultural variables when developing, implementing, and evaluating policy initiatives. The CNI, and particularly its MaCRN component, will make a valuable contribution to both frameworks and information. The CNI model is also likely to be a useful prototype for developing comparable mechanisms in other sectors.

Key Challenges

There are a number of key challenges facing government agencies in responding to these potential policy implications. Firstly, there must be a strong commitment to strengthening overall organisational capability and responsiveness to addressing Māori offending.

Secondly, organisations must acknowledge cultural differences in how the disparities between Māori and non-Māori are addressed in all sectors. It is not enough to assert that particular theories and approaches are culturally neutral. Such notions of cultural neutrality must in future be critically scrutinised against environmental factors (such as poor standards of living, institutional racism and discrimination) which negatively impact upon cultural variables.
Thirdly, organisations need to recognise that the imperative for addressing Māori cultural needs does not derive solely from the Treaty of Waitangi. The MaCRNs demonstrate that there is a legitimate body of Māori knowledge which, in conjunction with empirically based western psychology, can be utilised to reduce Māori offending. Consequently, the MaCRNs introduce a strong theoretical base from which to argue the necessity of addressing cultural factors in order to promote positive behavioural change amongst Māori.
Fourthly, organisations will need to be prepared to work more collaboratively to achieve a reduction in offending and re-offending by Māori. This should ensure that all of the risk factors that predispose Māori to crime, including environmental factors, are taken into account, and that strategies are developed to adequately address these.
Finally, organisations will need to develop strategies, in partnership with Māori, to assist in preventing negative entry of Māori into the criminal justice sector. This will require a commitment to building and maintaining positive relationships with Māori to assist with an overall reduction of Māori offending and re-offending.


Consistent with its objectives, the Department of Corrections is currently considering implementing a newly developed needs assessment tool - the CNI. A substantial component of that tool focuses on measuring unique Māori culture-related needs (MaCRNs). Four MaCRNs (cultural identity, cultural tension, whānau and whakawhānaunga) have been identified through a combination of Māori-specific research and consultation with relevant Māori experts. The potential link between the MaCRNs and offending can be understood in the context of the effects colonisation has had on Māori society and the particular cultural dynamics that permeate Māori values, beliefs, and practices.

While the MaCRNs appear promising, further research is required to test whether or not the MaCRNs increase the accuracy of predicting re-offending amongst Māori. Ongoing research will also need to be undertaken to ensure that potential barriers to the effective implementation of the tool are considered and addressed, and that there is development of responsivity instruments, interventions, and post-support mechanisms to be put in place for Māori offenders.
Finally, the CNI (including the MaCRNs) has the potential to produce a number of benefits for the development of policy relevant to Māori. It requires however, a proactive approach from Government agencies to meet key challenges. This includes a commitment to developing and maintaining positive relationships with the Māori community and addressing environmental factors which negatively impact upon Māori.


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1 To focus.

1 Severity refers to the extent to which a criminogenic need is likely to contribute to further offending.

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