18 Feb 2021

Hōkai Rangi prison strategy credibility questioned

5:58 pm on 18 February 2021

Corrections has defended the implementation of its Māori prison reduction strategy to MPs, saying that despite delays caused by Covid-19, it was on track.

Inmates from Hawke's Bay prison's Māori focus unit Te Tirohanga performed a powerful haka pōwhiri to welcome Topia Rameka to his new role.

Hōkai Rangi is a long-term strategy which aims to cut the number of Māori in prison. (File photo). Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Hōkai Rangi aims to reduce the Māori prison population from 52 percent to 16 percent over the next 15 years, in line with the overall Māori population, ensure the mana of prisoners is upheld, give them more access to rehabilitation programmes, and time with their whānau.

However, justice reform advocates have said the strategy no longer holds any credibility, citing an ombudsman report of prisoners at Paremoremo prison being locked up for 23 hours a day.

The Waikeria prison riot earlier this year, which resulted in fire damage to the buildings by prisoners protesting poor conditions has also been pointed to as evidence the strategy is not working.

During the ministry's annual review, Corrections chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot told the Justice Select Committee that reform of the system would take a long time.

Corrections had begun building partnerships with local iwi and hapū as part of Hōkai Rangi, and thanked Ngāti Maniapoto and Raukawa kaumātua and kuia for their "critical support" during the Waikeria prison riot, Lightfoot said.

While Corrections had yet to develop a framework to measure the progress of Hōkai Rangi, Lightfoot said they had identified 37 short-term actions they initially wanted to have completed within the first two years of the strategy launch in 2019.

Corrections had achieved three of those actions, which included establishing a deputy chief executive Māori, ensuring Corrections' leadership was committed towards kaupapa Māori initiatives, and resourcing Hōkai Rangi with $98 million put aside in the 2019 Budget for "a range of initiatives to lower the proportion of Māori in the Corrections system", he said.

The other 37 actions included the likes of mana whenua partnerships at each prison site, kaupapa Māori services for wāhine and rangatahi Māori, keeping Māori close to their whānau, implementing a te reo Māori strategy, creating a working definition of kaupapa Māori, and placing Māori in their care closer to whānau.

Lightfoot said Corrections was on track to complete at least half of these actions by the end of the financial year.

"We are on track in that partnership and leadership space to develop those mana whenua partnerships at the relevant prison sites where we're developing those pathways and making really good progress in that regard," he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs