Maori prison rates have reached an all-time high and accounting for 51% of the total prison population. The Government has announced that a further 1800 new places will budgeted for across the prison system with more than half being filled by Maori men. New Zealand has one of the highest
incarceration rates in the Western world per head of population. Earlier this Aljazeera reported on the issue of Maori in prison: (HERE)
Someone who knows more than most about Maori prisoners is Neil Campbell. He is from the Ngati Porou tribe and has worked in corrections for more than 20 years. For six years he was a prison guard at Paremoremo Prison, the highest-security facility for many of the country's worst offenders, some of whom will never be released. He then worked in cognitive behavioural therapy and later as Maori adviser for Mount Eden Prison. For the past three years he's been Director Maori at the Department of Corrections.
Of the cohort of Maori inmates he has seen, there are some familiar themes.
"The majority have problems with literacy and numeracy. The majority of offenders have some kind of drug or alcohol abuse problem, which is immediately attached to their offending behaviour. The majority of offenders will come from a dysfunctional family," Campbell says. "By dysfunctional, I mean there will be generational unemployment.
Generational substance and alcohol abuse histories. Generational problems with lack of education. Generational problems of being disconnected from wider whanau [family] or support networks. Problems with adoption. Problems being raised in social welfare families.
"They all have a history and a whakapapa [ancestry] of offending that goes right back to a very young age, and in a lot of instances, before they were born. Hence the generational problem."
Campbell is quick to point out that understanding and analysing these factors is not to offer an excuse for their behaviour, but it does put their actions in some kind of context.
"A lot of the time, impulsivity is just connected to survival. It doesn't give an excuse for offending behaviour because, at the end of the day, everyone has still got choices. But if you begin to examine those things, you very quickly start to realise that people's choice pools are at varying depths."