We all understand the anger anyone of us would feel when a loved one is hurt by someone. You wouldn’t be a human being if you didn’t want to punish a person for doing something criminal or cruel to someone you identify with, but allowing anger and fear to dominate our thinking has created more problems than solutions within our prison system and it’s time we all acknowledged that.
The Waitangi Tribunal’s finding that our prisons are racist and creating counterproductive outcomes via our punitive system should surprise no one.
We at the Manukau Urban Maori Authority have been running Out of Gate programs for prisoners trying to reintegrate into society after their prison sentences for a few years now.
However the damage we are needlessly causing entire generations through our overcrowded and underfunded prison services are a national disgrace but we’ve allowed ourselves to become captured by our emotions that we aren’t listening to reason any longer.
We need politicians who will show leadership on this issue, not more ‘get tough and throw away the key’ crime rhetoric.
And we need to understand just how many of our criminals are really failures from our broken mental health service and victims in their own right. Many of them are Maori in jail for offences like unpaid fines and marijuana use. They would be far better being on the outside ordered by the court to be part of a Maori set up with Maori programmes and solutions.
We need more culturally appropriate rehabilitation programs and real money spent on the reintegration of prisoners back into society. I have made it clear to Corrections boss Ray Smith that their Maori strategy is not working and so he is bringing some of his leadership team to meet with mine this week, it should be an interesting hui.
We have got to stop seeing all prisoners as sub-humans who must suffer for their crimes. My mother Dame June Jackson was this country’s longest serving parole board member serving 20 years on the board and she always said that the evil ones or sub-humans were only a small percentage of the prison population. My Mum is right and while I have no problem punishing sadistic and evil behaviour I do have a problem if we as a society never address some of the reasons for it particularly from Maori offenders.
Maori do not have any criminal DNA yet we are 50 percent of the prison population and only 15 percent of this country’s population. If the parties concerned accept the tribunals ruling that the system is racist then surely Corrections now have an obligation to make every effort to address and change things. We need to see prison as an opportunity to remove these damaged men and women from our community and attempt to rebuild them and equip them with the skills to become productive members of society again.
Punishing people until they are human scars is sadistic and beneath us as a civilised country, we must remove our fear and anger and replace it with compassion if we are to reset the broken policy mistakes of the past.
*First published in the Manukau Courier