Sending jailbirds to Heaven is one way of tackling the ethnic mix in prison – but we have further suggestions

Google may well need to spend more time in a Maori immersion course.

We suggest this because we have just asked it to translate “Hokai Rangi” for us.  This happens to be the name the Corrections Department has given to its widely publicised strategy for reducing (a) prison inmate numbers and (b) the high percentage of Maori in the prison population.

Google’s answer to our request for a translation, somewhat surprisingly, was one word:  Heaven.

In tune with the new philosophy being adopted to prison management, that simple answer suggests inmates henceforth should be known as Heavenly Creatures,

This may well be handy for the mana of someone who who has just been banged up for several years for, let’s say, aggravated robbery or some other form of serious violence.  When the offspring at home ask where dad has gone, mum can say he has gone to Heaven.

And no, you won’t have to be Maori to go – or be sent – to Heaven via the justice system.  Our prisons are about to be subjected to a comprehensive Maori makeover under Hōkai Rangi.  Until recently the strategy was to be the Māori Corrections strategy.  But late in the piece, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis and Corrections chief executive Christine Stevenson decided that what was good for Māori was good for everyone.

And so the culture of 15% of the general population (but a majority of the prison population) looks set to become the over-riding influence on what happens to everybody in the prison system.

We warmly recommend that this new way of thinking about turning prisoners into good honest citizens be applied immediately to the bloke who has been sending white supremacist letters from his prison cell.

But back to the name of the new strategy.

A paper from the department tells us:

Hōkai Rangi represents a new strategic direction for Ara Poutama Aotearoa: one that builds on the good things that are already happening, learns from doing, and, most importantly, innovates to find new and alternative ways of doing things to achieve better outcomes with Māori and their whānau. This strategy will underpin transformative and intergenerational change for those in our care and their whānau.

At the heart of the strategy is the concept of oranga, or wellbeing. All who participated in thinking about the strategy were clear that this must be our focus. Therefore, it is fitting that we have returned to the whakataukī, Kotahi anō te kaupapa: ko te oranga o te iwi – There is only one purpose to our work: the wellness and wellbeing of people. This whakataukī was gifted to us by rangatira at Waiwhetū Marae in 2001.

And:

Hōkai Rangi expresses our commitment to delivering great outcomes with and for Māori in our care and their whānau, so that we can begin to address the significant over-representation of Māori in the corrections system. This strategy therefore ultimately aims to lower the proportion of Māori in our care to a level that matches the Māori share of the general population.

At Newsroom, Laura Walters has produced a good account of the new five-year prison strategy and Davis’s aim to significantly reduce the Maori imprisonment rate and reoffending.

She starts in 2017, when the Waitangi Tribunal found the Crown had not been meeting its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi regarding the disproportionate rate of Māori imprisonment and recidivism.

Just which bits of the Treaty have been breached is a huge mystery.  Read it, and let us know what we have overlooked.

But as Walters explains:

Corrections got to work on developing a new strategy for Māori, something the department had been without for about a decade.

Two years on, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has unveiled the new strategy, which will not only be used to guide and measure change for Māori prisoners, but for the whole prison population.

Māori make up 52 per cent of the prison population but less than 16 per cent of the general population.

The reimprisonment rate for Māori over four years is 55 percent, compared to Pākehā at 45 percent. Meanwhile, the rate of reconviction ending in a community sentence for recidivsit Māori offenders is 80 percent, compared to 76 percent for Pākehā.

Davis says:

“We’ve all seen the statistics and they are so enduring that the reality that over half of our prison population is Māori has just become a normal fact of life. The status quo is no longer acceptable.”

“The over-representation of Māori in our prisons is devastating to whānau, hapū, and iwi.”   

Davis therefore has set an overall goal of reducing the prison population by 30 per cent in 15 years and a specific target for reducing the Māori prison population to match the general population.

He did not put a specific timeframe on achieving this target, but Stevenson reportedly said she believed it was a multi-generational goal.

Work is under way with Hōkai rangi to identify measures and indicators to enable progress to be tracked.

These measures are expected to be finalised in the next few weeks.

The department will also be embedding accountability for achieving the strategy’s objectives across the organisation.

Corrections has created a new position for a deputy chief executive–Māori, to lead the work.

Māori concepts of whakapapa (identity) and whānau (family) are key foundations to participation, rehabilitation and reintegration for everyone, and applicable no matter a prisoner’s background or ethnicity.

A fundamental change is that Hōkai Rangi will treat the person, not the crime.

But besides making prisons more humane, to turn inmates into good citizens when they are released, Point of Order has further ideas for reducing the percentage of Maori in prison.

Strategy A – Lock up many more non-Maori to overwhelm the Maori prison population.

A quick check showed some of the possibilities for incarceration:

  • A Nelson man was has been fined $300 for deliberately failing to complete the 2018 census.  He was one of 60 Kiwis being prosecuted for not completing their census forms.  You could say StatsNZ bungling did a much greater mischief to the census results than the 60 non-compliance culprits.  But an offence was committed by all citizens who did not complete their forms.  
  • A 16-year-old student was fined $150 for not paying a $1.05 train fare in Auckland after he forgot his AT Hop card. His mum said he was in a rush that day – he was trying to get to an early-morning NCEA school trip at 8am at Waitakere College.  No matter.  An offence is an offence.
  • An unregistered builder was fined $6500 in Palmerston North District Court for building without a consent.  Judge Lance Rowe exercised leniency – he said a fine of $12,150 would have been appropriate, but reduced it due to the accused bloke’s limited means.  The unconsented work doubled the floor area of the house.
  •  Two Nelson residents who brought back illegal plant material from Myanmar, including wood that contained a live spider, were fined in the Nelson District Court for biosecurity breaches.  One was fined $1500 and ordered to pay court costs; the other was fined $3500 and ordered to pay court costs of $130.

Strategy B – Instruct the police to look the other way when Maori offenders are the culprits or to more liberally exercise their discretion.  Likewise, judges should be instructed to send Maori defendants back to their whanau when over-zealous police officers ignore the instructions they have been given.

Readers are invited to send in their own ideas.

 

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