'Humanising' prisoners: Strategy launched by Corrections to reduce Māori reoffending

Corrections is hiring a Māori deputy chief executive as part of the Government's strategy launched to break the cycle of Māori reoffending and imprisonment in New Zealand.  

The strategy, announced by Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis on Monday, is called Hōkai Rangi, and will focus on improving "wellbeing and outcomes" for Māori. 

"The over-representation of Māori in our prisons is devastating to whānau, hapū, and iwi. Our Government is committed to taking action to fix this," Davis said. 

The strategy will include "changing the language" around Māori in the care and management of Corrections by not using words such as "muster" to refer to a collection of prisoners. 

Corrections also plan to provide "more comfortable visiting rooms" for whānau to visit more often, and provide an 0800 number for them to ring with enquiries. 

Working with gang leaders who are "disengaged from offending behaviour" will be prioritised to "support their members" in the care of Corrections. 

It's also been proposed that day and weekend home visits be allowed for prisoners leading up to release, and supervised visits at Māori-based units. 

A 'deputy chief executive - Māori' position has already been created and will be filled soon. Davis said the role was created to "ensure a dedicated Māori voice at the top table". 

Filling the new role is one of a few projects already underway. 

The strategy ultimately aims to lower the proportion of Māori in Corrections care to a level that matches the overall Māori population, which is about 16 percent. 

That's a significant drop from the current 52 percent of the total prison population made up of inmates who identify as Māori. 

  • 52 percent of the male prisoner population are Māori
  • 57 percent of the female prisoner population are Māori
  • 67 percent of the prisoner population under 20 are Māori 

The launch of the strategy follows a pre-Budget announcement in May that $98 million would be dedicated to try and break the cycle of Māori reoffending and imprisonment. 

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

It included Māori trauma and mental health support, expanded rehabilitation services, housing transition support, dedicated employment services and increased whānau, hapū and iwi engagement.

It's being rolled out at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison and the Northland Region Corrections Facility, both of which have a disproportionate amount of Māori inmates. 

Other work underway

  • three additional special treatment units will be provided for men, for women and young people
  • a 100-bed mental health facility will be built at Waikeria Prison
  • a resettlement centre for women is being developed in partnership with the Kiingitanga (the Māori King movement) and Housing New Zealand 
  • a strategy is being developed for one of the women's prisons to reduce Māori reoffending 

The overrepresentation of Māori in prisons was the focus of a 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 last year found that most Māori believe their over-representation in prisons is a direct result of colonialism and racism.

The Hōkai Rangi strategy will be implemented over the five-year period from 2019-2024.