Ex-inmate finds Māori roots in prison

Prominent lawyer Annette Sykes says prisons should be axed and replaced with community rehabilitation centres.

Ms Sykes, ex-prisoners and community groups are joining forces to create changes to the justice system and reduce Māori prison rates.

Wiremu MacFarlane has convictions for selling meth and violence and says he's escaped custody three times, spending 12 years behind bars overall.

"I went to prison four times for driving as a young fella, so by the time I was 21 can you imagine what my friends were like?"

But everything changed for MacFarlane when he found his culture while in prison learning tikanga Māori customs and traditions.

"For the first time in my life I have come out and I can say I'll never go back to prison, because my tikanga will guide me in the right direction."

He's helped young offenders do the same and says they've become better people, who are less likely to reoffend.

"If we look for Māori solutions to our Māori prison population we have to look to our tikanga."

He wants to see more programmes centred around Māori culture in prisons.

It's just one of many ideas put forward at a hui in Rotorua, looking Māori solutions to reducing our shocking prison rates.

Māori make up half the prison population, despite being only 15 percent of the population.

Prominent lawyer Annette Sykes wants prisons gone.

"We're not here to say no, we want wrong-doing to go unpunished. That's not the case at all. What we are saying is that we want behaviours to change, but the prison industrial complex that's presently been developed is failing."

Social worker Chantelle Walker helps young offenders stay out of prison.

"The solution is to provide environments for our young people to feel connected to somebody, to something and to themselves most importantly, just allowing them to feel safe in an environment."

Corrections Minister Louise Upston told Newshub there are complex causes for high rates of imprisonment for Māori, but gangs are probably a significant factor.

She's committed to working with Māori to find solutions and says that several by Māori, for Māori schemes are already in place.