A $98m approach to tackle Māori incarceration

A new Māori pathway, backed by $98 million, is the Government’s latest effort to lower the rates of Māori incarceration and recidivism.

Currently more than 50 percent of the prison population is Māori, but just 15 percent of the general population.

Meanwhile, Māori make up 62 percent of the high security prison population.

On Friday, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis announced the creation of a new approach for Māori offenders, to be initially rolled out at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison and Northland Region Corrections Facility.

The Māori Pathways programme would have a kaupapa Māori and whānau-centred approach for offenders, from pre-sentence through to reintegration and transition into the community.

The programme would initially focus on Māori men under 30, who had the highest rates of recidivism.

The $98m would be split across Corrections, Māori Development, and Social Development, in an effort to provide wraparound services, replacing the siloed approach to ministries’ interactions with offenders.

“We are acknowledging that our system does not work for the majority of Māori. The answer is not another programme. This is a new pathway for people in prison and their whānau to walk together."

It would include Māori trauma and mental health support, expanded rehabilitation services for those in high security, housing transition support, dedicated employment services and increased whānau, hapū and iwi engagement.

The Budget funding would expand these core services, targeting the significant unmet need.

The initiative would be co-designed and implemented by Māori, with Corrections, Te Puni Kōkiri, and the Ministry for Social Development working together, in partnership with hapū and iwi.

Step on the way to ambitious target

The coalition Government has committed to reducing the prison population by 30 percent in 15 years. A key part of that is addressing Māori imprisonment and recidivism.

So far, finding inefficiencies in the system has allowed Davis to take the heat out of the crisis Corrections was facing in its prisons a year ago.

But major changes in legislation, and the way in which Māori offenders are supported and rehabilitated, is needed if the Government wants to even come close to reaching its ambitious goal.

“We are acknowledging that our system does not work for the majority of Māori. The answer is not another programme. This is a new pathway for people in prison and their whānau to walk together,” Davis said.

The plan was to change the system and the culture in prisons, particularly those prisons with a high percentage of Māori inmates.

Since Davis took the job as corrections minister he has talked about his desire to radically reduce Māori incarceration.

“If there’s a minister with a vested interest in reducing the Māori prison population, it’s me. It’s my friends that I went to school with, it’s my extended whānau, it’s my hapū, it’s my iwi that are being incarcerated."

A memo in late-2017 said Davis planned to take options to Cabinet to adopt a target relating to the goal of reducing over‐representation of Māori in the system, following consultation with iwi.

The idea of a Māori-specific target has since been scrapped, but in an interview with Newsroom last year, Davis said he would like to work towards lowering Māori representation to 15 percent.

“If we could reduce it to the 15 percent ... we’d have the lowest incarceration rates in the world. It’s quite possible.”

Ngāpuhi - Davis’ iwi - is the most incarcerated people in the world.

“If there’s a minister with a vested interest in reducing the Māori prison population, it’s me. It’s my friends that I went to school with, it’s my extended whānau, it’s my hapū, it’s my iwi that are being incarcerated…

“I am totally engaged and engrossed in turning those statistics around. It would be good for Ngāpuhi, it’ll be good for Māori, but more importantly it’ll be good for all of New Zealand,” he said at the time.

'$100m without details'

National Party corrections spokesman David Bennett said it was a lot of money to spend on something, when there was no evidence it would work.

“The programme will be a prison within a prison, but will only be available at two locations.”

National recognised Māori were over-represented in prisons but Bennett said he believed in the fundamental principle that the Corrections system should serve all equally.

Bennett said there was a lack of details.

“We need a system that works for all, teaching skills and providing rehabilitation, that acknowledges cultural and personal backgrounds, not an expensive and divisive system that Kelvin Davis has dreamt up.”

Breaking down silos

The programme would launch in Hawke’s Bay in July, with further initiatives rolled out in October.

Over 68 percent of the prison’s population is Māori.

Corrections and Ngāti Kuhungunu have established a partnership and begun co-designing the pathway and implementation at the prison.

Ngawha Prison is beginning the co-design process, and initiatives would begin later this year.

The Northland prison’s Māori population is over 56 percent.

New Zealand's mass incarceration is disproportionately Māori. The new pathway is an attempt to take a different approach to this arm of the criminal justice system. Photo: Getty Images

Currently, prisoners had to wait until they were low security to access important rehabilitation programmes. This redesign would see those programmes introduced earlier, to high security inmates.

The number of prisoners, and ultimately prisons, that participated in the Māori-centred approach would depend on the final design. While the idea was aimed at improving Māori outcomes, and would be rolled out in prisons with a high proportion of Māori inmates, anyone could take part.

There would also be an aspect of cultural competency, with those who chose the pathway learning about tikanga, and improving te reo.

As part of the programme, Te Puni Kōkiri would deliver a specialised Kaiarataki Whānau Ora Navigator workforce to work with people in prison and their whānau before, during and after their time in prison.

MSD would also establish Intensive Case Managers to provide employment support prior to and following release.

Brian Tamaki pipes up again

Despite Government rhetoric over the past 18 months, some in the community have been critical of what they see as a lack of action on addressing Māori incarceration rates.

At the forefront of this fight has been controversial Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki.

Tamaki, along with 2000 people, marched on Parliament late last year calling for the Government to reinstate the Man Up programme in the country’s prisons.

But Davis hit back at Tamaki for grandstanding and not following the proper process.

In an interview with Newsroom, Davis ruled out the Man Up programme based on the absence of any independently verified results - and Tamaki’s dishonesty.

“If they’re going to lie about small stuff, and about being banned from prison and preaching war, why would we open ourselves up for them to go into a prison,” he said.

These comments led to a Twitter firestorm, where Tamaki hit out at Davis, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson, accusing them of “political gang rape”, and said he would cause inmate revolts in every prison.

In the following days, Davis reiterated Tamaki’s programmes would not be implemented in New Zealand prisons.

However, that hasn’t stopped the outspoken church leader from claiming credit for Friday’s Māori pathways announcement.

Tamaki was briefed about the basics of the programme ahead of its announcement, and used the chance to break the Government’s embargo. In a statement on Thursday night, Tamaki said he wanted to acknowledge Davis for responding to Man Up's public calls and determination to see stronger efforts made towards rehabilitation programmes.

He again used the opportunity to try to champion the adoption of his programme.

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