GUEST BLOG: Willie Jackson – Prisons need a rethink if they are to be less racist


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.

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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 


  1. A good item.

    I have one other point to remember. While I am no fan of Corrections who should be doing far better, we need to stop blaming them for the prison population being so high and including so many Maori. Let us remember that it is not Corrections that puts them in prison. The Police arrest them, hopefully in accordnace with the law, and the courts sentence them. Corrections are then left with the problem of dealing with what they are given.

  2. Corrections are still part of the problem they are part of a racist and bias justice system having experienced the justice system even some of the judges and their staff are bloody racists old swines. I have sat in court and seen the circus one line for maori remand in custody and another line for Pakeha remanded at large.
    When are pakeha going to release who initially got all the state jobs when we created our welfare state and who got the best houses in the nice areas not us no we didn’t have the jobs they all went to people of the same colour now we have the jobs and the state is being cut to the bone same old same old don’t tell me we all had the same opportunities that is simply not true

  3. I had a quick look at the corrections data on the prison muster.
    Between 2000 and 2014 prison numbers were fairly fixed at around 8000 men – 20% on remand and 80% sentenced.

    In Dec 2016 the total had jumped to 9219, with 28% on remand. Most of the extra prison numbers are driven by people held on remand.

    The data also shows 20% of the muster is in for sexual offences, 38% violence, 20% dishonesty, 13% drugs and antisocial and 3.3% traffic.
    I’m not sure there is much scope to improve Maori prison statistics by releasing those incarcerated for “unpaid fines and marijuana use”.

    Making out prisoners to be the victims will in many cases be very hurtful to the victims of their crime. Most of people in prison will have done something terrible. Taking the aggregate of the prison muster and calling for reform ignores the individual misery of the victims that has led us to this situation.

    It’s up to the Probation people (like your mother by the sounds) to work out whether prisoners up for release will be likely to reoffend.
    It doesn’t seem easy to legally define the “evil or sub-human ones” (your mothers words) but either way the prisons will need to stay for these people at least.

    Finally, I’ve always thought when someone calls for “leadership” on a particular issue what they really mean is they want public opinion to be ignored.

    • You’re being reasonable. This is supposed to be emotive. 😉

      Further comment – not directed at JLO73:
      And the other 50%? Do they have ‘cultural needs’? Have they come from regrettable pasts? Do they reoffend at similar rates?

      Balance – not dog whistles or parochialism, please.

    • really JL073 can you tell me how you know prisoners aren’t victims because many are and whats with the f…up name

  4. This idea that maoris are in prison simply because of marijuana or unpaid fines is outright lies, I’d like to know where you got this information from.
    The prisons are overpopulated and people are being imprisoned too often but this has nothing to do with race.
    According to the latest statistics I could find the largest percentage for drugs was only 16% (in the 40-45 age group) and was only in the single digits for other ages, unpaid fines was so low it didn’t even register.

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