Prison-free Aoteaora could only happen with real justice, prison lobbyist says

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

The latest statistics show the number of prison inmates has reduced but Māori still make up more than 50% of those imprisoned.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says his dream is for a prison-free New Zealand but critics claim the government is doing little to make that happen. 

An inmate challenged the minister at a pōwhiri at the Northland Region Corrections Facility, asking in Māori: "Why have you come here, to bring truth or lies?"

The minister believes the strategy he is leading, Hōkai Rangi, is one answer to the concerns. He says the strategy is "the right thing to do" because people belong "at home with whānau".

Although the number of Māori in prison has reduced by about 1000 under Davis, the percentage of Māori in prison in comparison to non-Māori has increased. 

In June 2018 50% of the 10,400 prisoners were Māori but, as of Corrections' latest statistics to June this year, 53.1% of the 8,397 prisoners are Māori.

'Meaningless drop'

People Against Prisons Aotearoa spokesperson Emmy Rakete is calling the reduction by "a few hundred" people meaningless. She says the number of prisoners in remand prisons is growing and they will become the majority of prisoners in a few years. 

In fact government statistics show the number of people in remand has grown from 8,892 in Dec 2018 to 9,867 in December last year. 

The minister remains ambitious, saying a prison-free New Zealand would be a dream but Rakete says his strategy won't achieve that.

Rakete believes a prison-free Aotearoa can only happen when communities lead the initiatives. She says the alternative to prison is justice - economic justice, racial justice and political justice. 

Hokai Rangi aims to reduce reoffending by putting culture at the core. Minister Davis says access to culture is a right and not a privilege and prisons shouldn't be a barrier to accessing prisoners' own culture. 

While prison numbers are declining the remainder of the 500 new beds in the Waikeria Prison Development are set to open by August next year.