Budget 2019: $98 million for Māori-focused prison initiative

The Government will spend $98 million to try and break the cycle of Māori reoffending and imprisonment - but a Māori prison reduction target still hasn't been set. 

Fashioned as a new "whānau-centred pathway" initiative, Māori in high security settings will have better access to rehabilitative services rather than waiting to be in low security. 

Included in the pathway is Māori trauma and mental health support, expanded rehabilitation services, housing transition support, dedicated employment services and increased whānau, hapū and iwi engagement.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said the pre-Budget 2019 announcement was a major first step in changing the way Corrections operates to help reduce the prison population by 30 percent and reduce Māori incarceration. 

"This is a new pathway for people in prison and their whānau to walk together. This is a system change and a culture change for our prisons - and that change starts today," Davis said. 

"It's about reducing reoffending so there are fewer victims of crime, building closer partnerships with Māori, and enabling us to keep delivering on our target to reduce the prison population by 30 percent."

The initiative will roll out at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison (HBRP) and the Northland Region Corrections Facility (NRCF). It will initially focus on Māori men under 30 - the group with the highest reconviction and re-imprisonment rates.

Prison populations 

  • HBRP: 457 Māori out of 668
  • NRCF: 350 Māori out of 623

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis. Photo credit: Newshub / Mitchell Alexander

Māori over-representation in prisons

The Government wants two things: to reduce the prison population by 30 percent in 15 years, and to reduce Māori incarceration - though it hasn't yet set a specific reduction target for the latter. 

The overrepresentation of Māori in prisons was the focus of the Government's criminal justice summit in August last year, where Justice Minister Andrew Little slammed New Zealand's "wildly disproportionate over-representation of Māori".

A survey conducted by Action Station and the University of Otago late last year found that most Māori believe their over-representation in New Zealand prisons is a direct result of colonialism and racism.

The report highlighted how the pre-colonial Māori justice system was governed by tikanga custom which recognised that the rights of individuals are indivisible from the wellbeing of their whānau, hapū, and iwi.

It proposed that installing Māori-led community initiatives and incorporating Māori culture into policy will redress the racial imbalance in the contemporary justice system - which seems to be the Government's new trajectory. 

Māori people in high security locations will have access to holistic kaupapa Māori support services that "recognise the collective strength and capability of whānau, hapū and iwi". 

The Government said while the initiative will be based on Māori values, it won't be exclusively for Māori - it'll be for all prisoners. Work is still being done to finalise it. 

The Government also acknowledged that the success of it will depend on the effectiveness of staff being trained. It said Corrections is working on ways to increase the "cultural competency" of staff, such as learning Te Reo. 

Corrections will also work closely with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and the Whānau Ora contemporary indigenous health initiative, "rather than the traditional 'siloed' approach". 

'Intensive Case Managers' will be provided by MSD to give employment support to prisoners both prior to and following release.