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May 22, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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‘Kaupapa Māori Prisons’ Met With Backlash

Recently Labour MP and Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis proposed developing a prison run according to Māori values to address the over-representation of Māori in prison statistics. However, the proposal has been met with backlash from criminal justice organisations such as JustSpeak and No Pride in Prisons.

While not solely for Māori inmates, the proposed prison would be run in accordance with Māori values, including manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, and aroha — “caring for others, respect, empathy” — as part of a “whole, systemic change, not just scratching the surface,” according to Davis.

“It’s really a conversation-starter about what do we have to do differently?

Māori make up 50.5 per cent of the prison population, despite being only 15 per cent of the national population. Davis believes the narrative is now changing to recognise that the current system isn’t working.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the proposal was not party policy, but acknowledged that the current system isn’t working and change is required.

Prime Minister Bill English says Māori values are already incorporated into prisons where appropriate, and rehabilitation efforts “take into account what’s going to work for [Māori], as it does for any offender.”

The Māori Party raised a similar idea in 2009; a separate, rehabilitation-focused Māori prison, where inmates could prove they were serious about turning their lives around.

However, reform group No Pride in Prisons has criticised the idea, as the concept of incarceration is a colonial one at odds with Māoritanga. Spokesperson Emilie Rakete explained that prisons “were forced on Māori society through colonisation, so imagining a prison based on ‘Māori values’ is simply ridiculous.”

Criminal justice organisation JustSpeak also opposes the proposal. Chairperson Julia Whaipooti acknowledged that mass-imprisonment of Māori is “the most significant issue in our prison system,” but disagreed with the approach of having a kaupapa Māori prison.

Whaipooti told Salient that prisons are a result of colonisation, and that “giving the keys to that vehicle to Māori” is not necessarily “the most transformative way that we can look to address the problems around mass imprisonment of Māori.”

“There are some key things that we need to shift to have better outcomes for Māori, and if we have better outcomes for Māori in our justice system, we have better outcomes for New Zealand in terms of our justice system.”

The Department of Corrections runs group-oriented “tikanga-based programmes” in prisons that “use Māori philosophy, values, knowledge, and practices to foster the regeneration of Māori identity and values to encourage offender motivation to address their offending needs,” according to its website.

However, Whaipooti said that these programmes are “a minority of what’s going on.”

“It’s not enough to put a little bit of money and give things Māori names, and give things Māori values, if they’re not being actually substantively practiced or supported throughout the system.”

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