This article was written in collaboration with Te Hiku Media.
As the Aotearoa/New Zealand Government approaches the midway point of the Department of Corrections’ strategic direction, Hōkai Rangi, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says the prison population has decreased by almost one quarter since 2017.
In 2017, the prison population in Aotearoa/New Zealand was predicted to increase to over 13,000 by 2021.
If these projections had become a reality and continued at that rate, a new prison would have to be built every three to four years.
Minister Davis said the Government had to make a decision.
“We said we’re going to reduce the prison population safely by 30 per cent over 15 years,” Minister Davis said.
He says although this was met with strong criticism from the Opposition and media at the time, the current prison population is now at 8,167 — a 24 per cent decrease from 2017.
“A lot of people actually don’t know the results … that there’s a thousand fewer Māori not in prison than when I became the Minister,” Minister Davis said.
“It’s about just getting on and doing the job and making sure our people are benefitting.”
At the heart of the strategy is oranga or wellbeing. Minister Davis highlights cultural wellbeing and the right of those in prison to have access to their culture.
“Access to your culture and your language is a right, not a privilege. It is the right of everybody in prison, regardless of your ethnicity … to have access to what grounds you,” Minister Davis said.
“It’s only natural that even Corrections should be Māori focused, that we should be using te reo Māori, we should be using … our Māori values.
“We know that they work, we know that they do create peace and harmony.”
Earlier this year, Te Paati Māori (the Māori Party) co-leader Rawiri Waititi called for a ministerial inquiry after a District Court judge ruled some of the treatment of prisoners at Auckland Women’s Prison was “excessive, degrading and fundamentally inhumane”.
Waititi went on to say he wanted a “by Māori, for Māori, to Māori approach to dealing without whānau in prisons” and that Hōkai Rangi needs to be implemented faster.
Minister Davis admits there is still a lot of work to be done but ultimately wants to see the role of the Minister of Corrections no longer required and only prisons required for the country’s worst offenders.
By Hannah Cross