27 Jun 2019

Māori recidivism: Whānau to take greater role in government initiative

8:08 am on 27 June 2019

A $98 million plan to tackle high rates of Māori recidivism will involve whānau in rehabilitation strategies, not just prisoners themselves.

Kelvin Davis, Minister for Crown/Māori Relations, Corrections, and Tourism

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says currently prisoners can spend time in a Māori unit learning about whakapapa and tikanga, but the programme only runs for 13 weeks. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The Māori Pathways programme will initially to be rolled out in Hawke's Bay and Northland and focus on Māori men under 30 serving terms of between two and five years - as they have the highest rates of reoffending.

It aims to provide a wrap-around service including trauma and mental health care, housing support for those leaving prison and greater engagement with whānau and iwi from pre-sentence through to release.

More than half New Zealand's prison population are Māori but the government hopes to reduce that number in the next 15 years.

At a recent Justice Select Committee meeting Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said currently prisoners can spend time in a Māori unit learning their whakapapa and tikanga, but the programme only runs for 13 weeks.

He said once they were released they often return to whānau who may not have the customary knowledge they have learnt - and that can cause problems.

Mr Davis referred to a conversation he had with Hawke's Bay prisoners last year, including one who had tried to put into practice back home what he had learnt in the Māori unit.

"He asked his family if it was all right if he said grace before dinner. They just looked at him like he'd stepped off another planet.

"He felt really ashamed. He put the stuff that he'd learnt to the side and promptly fell back into old ways and was reincarcerated."

He said there has previously been talk about whānau being integral to a prisoner's rehabilitation, but currently it is difficult for them to be involved.

"And so with the Whānau Ora model, and by engaging with whānau and trying to make it easier for them to be part of their loved one's rehabilitation, we hope that we make the reintegration back into family life and to communities and societies easier and better."

Former prisoner Rawiri Waretini-Karena has spent 20 years working to help inmates find alternative ways of dealing with their anger.

He agreed with Mr Davis that whānau must be involved if prisoners were going to successfully transition back into the community.

Dr Waretini-Karena said it was especially important for the large number of prisoners who come from a dysfunctional home environments, and who return to them upon release.

"When you understand where your history came from, you unpack your stories so they can make sense of why things happened the way that they did, then they can develop the strategies for themselves.

"You help them unpack the stories and they're the ones that create the change.

"Once they have made that change, regardless of what environment they're stuck in, they're still on that path today."

Awatea Mita served two years in jail for drug-related offending, but has turned her life around and now works in the restorative justice field.

She said providing a supportive pathway for whānau to reconnect with their loved ones when they were released from jail offered the best chance of a positive outcome.

Ms Mita said she was fortunate to have a loving and supportive whānau, but even so they could not always identify her needs.

"Just the isolation I'd become used to - I'd have loved for them to know about that and to understand that.

"The anxiety I felt in crowds after leaving the prison and that that took some time.

"[Also] having family understand what conditions are going to be placed on you, for example if you're on a curfew, so that they can support you to keep to that curfew and not put you in danger of breaking the curfew, breaching your conditions and potentially being sent back to prison."

Mr Davis said the values that would underpin the Māori Pathways programme are universal and non-Māori would also be able to be part of the programme.

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