Dearth of Māori rehab programmes in prisons questioned


Less than a third of the country’s prisons provide intensive Māori-focused rehabilitation.

That’s despite Māori making up more than half of the country’s prison population.

Former prisoners were calling for more Māori content across the board in prison.

Only five out of the country’s 18 prisons offer Te Tirohanga, a rehabilitation course tailored for Māori which runs over a year-and-a-half.

It runs in five Māori focus units, and Department of Corrections’ data shows it cuts recidivism rates by 4.6 percentage points, which the minister Kelvin Davis believes is a success by international standards.

However, of the 5000 Māori behind bars – only a few hundred can access Te Tirohanga each year.

Raiha Ellis worked in prison volunteering with Māori inmates for 10 years.

“I don’t think there is enough Māori focus units and the teaching of Māori in our prisons – given of course we all know the highest percentage of inmates are Māori.”

She was the chair of Te Rōpu Kaiwhakamana, a group that visited inmates.

Mrs Ellis said kaupapa Māori rehabilitation helped the men she would visit.

Small Māori units are run at a handful of other prisons, and two offer Māori alcohol and drug rehab.

While all prisons offer programmes to strengthen Māori culture – they vary from site to site.

Former inmate Billy McFarlane has worked in jail.

“What I got to see in that time is the strength of our culture in changing men’s thinking.”

He now works with group of offenders. He said there was nowhere near enough Māoritanga in prison.

“They were not using enough Māori content,” he said.

“The courses that we have in prison are either three days long, or eight weeks long and it’s just not enough.

“I am dealing with the ones that are coming out of prison now that have gone through those programmes that are still failing big time.”

Shane White from Hoani Waititi Marae in Auckland said there was huge demand for the tikanga programme they run in prison.

“Every time we go in there we are meant to pick up a group of 15 and we end up with 32.”

He said a number of the Department of Corrections’ programmes had little authentic Māori content.

It cherry picked the Māori content which suited it and the prison was not supportive of te ao Māori, he said. Continue reading

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