For twenty five years policy approaches to reduce Maori offending have failed. In the penal industry ranks, Maori are over-represented at every step of the criminal justice process.
Although Maori comprise just 14% of the overall population aged 15 and over, 42% of all criminal apprehensions involve a person identifying as Maori.
And of course it is news to no-one that Maori make up around 50% of the total prison population and about 60% of the female prison population.
It appears that the extent of over-representation of Maori is an accepted part of the penal establishment.
Half of all offenders will be Maori we seem to just accept that statement as if that’s just the way it is. Why?
The Maori Party justice policy is predicated on the premise that the cure is in the care.
We endorse a restorative justice system where victims are empowered and the community is integral to bolster relationships and reduce crime.
A key philosophy underpinning our policy in practice is that restoration of the role of the collective is important.
We seek to decrease Maori offending and victimisation, to reduce the use of imprisonment as the priority response, and to support a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration within prison including our advocacy for literacy and numeracy programmes.
Critics of the suggestion that Maori might be interested in running prisons under a public private partnership are missing the point.
This is not about money it’s about finding a better way to run our prisons and for iwi and whanau to take responsibility for our own.
I’m amazed that people think that Maori might put their hands up to run prisons or programmes in prisons as some money-making opportunity. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
On the one occasion when we had a privately run prison in this country it was managed by a Maori – brought in from Australia the prison formed relationships with Maori in the Auckland area, had innovative rehabilitation programmes and was a success. The Labour government got rid of it because of its own philosophical hang-ups.
What we do know is that the system we have now is failing. So if we simply keep on doing what we have been, we already know that the result will be more failure.
On the other hand, properly resourced, well-run Maori service providers in areas like health and social services have demonstrated that they can deliver outcomes that are not only good for Maori but for the country too.
That’s exactly what I would expect to happen if similar Maori organisations get involved in running prisons under a public private partnership.
Some people seem to forget that prisoners are people too, and like it or not, most generally return to the heart of their communities and families.
We need to ensure that they are reintegrated within our communities in the most effective way possible. Ultimately, all of our futures are at stake and its worth putting the effort in to make it right.