Hope Māori-focused Corrections plan will deliver for families

A former prisoner hopes the Government's aim to reduce the prison population and "humanise" them will prevent others from going through the pain she felt.

Prisoner rights advocate Awatea Mita has done time at a minimum-security prison in New Zealand and knows the toll it can take on a family.

In December 2013, she told Newshub her 13-year-old son travelled to see her in prison, but he was turned away and told to come back in a week.

"He passed away in that week, so the last time I ever actually got to see him was through glass," Mita said.

She went to his tangi after he drowned, but only had 12 hours of release time including travel and arrived just before the casket was closed.

"As it was, I had 10 minutes with him to say goodbye."

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis announced on Monday a plan to reduce the prison population and treat prisoners with more humanity.

The changes will see:

  • family more involved with prisoners: more whanau visits, more comfortable visiting rooms, and day and weekend home visits leading up to release
  • more Māori staff employed, especially at senior levels, and the introduction of a new role: deputy chief executive - Māori 
  • the creation of minimum 'manaaki' standards of care and respect

Mita said she hopes it means others don't go through what she did.

"This is hopefully a step away from that type of traumatisation, re-traumatisation."

Davis hopes the strategy will drastically reduce the prison population, telling Newshub, "We need to make sure [prisoners] emerge a better person than when they went in, and that's what this strategy is all about."

Māori currently make up half the prison population. The new plan aims to eventually reduce that by a whopping 70 percent to match the general population - from 52 percent to 15, but there's no deadline or end-date.

There's already a target of reducing the prison population that does have a deadline - a 30 percent reduction of the general prison population over 15 years.

Corrections chief executive Christine Stevenson said the minister is "absolutely adamant that we're going to reduce the overall representation of Māori in prison".

National's Corrections spokesperson David Bennett said he's concerned about the culture that's being created in prisons.

"We need to make sure that the culture is right here and the culture that's being created at the moment is that the prisoner is first."

But the long-term goal of reducing the proportion of Māori prisoners is far from set in stone, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitting on Monday that there is still a long way to go.

"You'll see by the numbers that we have some way to go, but that shouldn't stop us from putting in place measures and innovative ideas."

The question will be how the strategy translates on the ground: whether visits are granted and prisoners are given time to get to funerals.


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