Anti-prison group lukewarm on new strategy for Maori

August 26, 2019

Anti-prison group lukewarm on new strategy for Maori

People Against Prisons Aotearoa spokesperson Emilie Rākete is unsure new correction strategy will work. Photo: supplied.

Prisons and Maori values don’t work together so a new government strategy to break the cycle of Maori reoffending has a hard task ahead, says a prison abolition group.

A better focus would be reintegrating people back into the community they have harmed by their actions, said People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA).

The group was responding to the release of the Hokai Rangi strategy which attempts to address the Maori prison imbalance and provide a strong partnership with mana whenua.

However an AUT law professor was more positive about the strategy, saying it could deter prisoners from joining gangs by filling a void in prison.

PAPA approves of any positive change made in prisons but is unsure the new strategy aligns with Kaupapa Maori values, said spokesperson Emilie Rakete.

“They sever people from their whakapapa, they remove people from their whānau and they have no basis in Kaupapa Maori.

“Prisons are categorically opposed to whanau (structure), and are opposed to the principle of whakapapa. It’s not something corrections can fix with some procedural change.”

Rākete said PAPA believes in transformative justice with the aim of in-community care.

“All we need to do is address the social, political and economic inequalities that push people into crime and into prison. Only by dealing with these basic material problems at the heart of our society we’re ever going to solve the problems that we’re facing,” she said.

The government strategy assumes prisons can be reformed by fixing the infrastructure, she said.

“This entire time they’ve been premised on the idea that prisons don’t work now, but the next thing we do will fix it,” said Rākete.

But AUT law professor Kris Gledhill said the Hōkai Rangi strategy might be an effective way to prevent prisoners from joining gangs which is encouraged by the antisocial environment inside prisons.

“If you don’t have an alternative approach of what to sell people in jail, they will go with whatever social setting operates in the jail. That’s why jails are well recognized to be a recruiting ground for gangs,” he said.

“There is a vacuum being filled by gangs at the moment, if you fill it with something more whānau centered, it seems like a sensible approach which might have an impact on getting people out from the clutches of gangs.”

The Hokai Rangi strategy was launched by Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis on August 19 and is a long-term strategy to cut the number of Maori in prison from 52 per cent to 16 per cent.

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