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Maori imprisonment rate has declined: Minister


Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis ( Photo courtesy RNZ)

Venu  Menon
Wellington,June 20,2023

“The Maori sentencing rate has decreased by 6.4 percentage points from 2014 and 2015 to 2021 and 2022, and the Maori re-imprisonment rate has dropped nearly 5 percent in the same period,” Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis told Parliament on Tuesday.

The minister was answering questions put to him by Te Paati Maori Co-leader Rawiri Waititi.

The minister noted that the Maori imprisonment rate had declined overall.

Citing the recently released  report of the independent Office of the Inspectorate, Minister Davis said                      “Corrections has accepted all seven of the report’s recommendations.” He assured the House that both the short and long-term responses to the recommendations would progress as quickly as possible.

But Waititi pointed out that a  “significant number of prisoners – disproportionately Maori- experience solitary  confinement for months on end, and, in some cases, in excess of a year.”

Minister Davis responded by expressing his concern about the “over-representation of Maori in prison.” He pointed to a new strategy that he had launched for Corrections in 2019 “with a significant focus on this issue,” adding, “but this is something that requires long-term change across the justice system, and I’ve made my expectations clear that Corrections manages all prisoners safely and humanely.”

Waititi said the report’s findings confirmed that “Aotearoa is in breach of international law – the Nelson Mandela Rules, which prohibit solitary confinement in excess of 15 days.” He asked the minister how prisoners could be rehabilitated “if they are stuck in solitary confinement.”

Te Paati Maori Co-leader Rawiri Waititi ( Photo courtesy RNZ)

Waititi listed the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, anger, irritability, perceptual distortion, and paranoia.

Waititi alluded to staff shortages in Corrections and suggested they contributed to human rights offences in prisons,” such as extended solitary confinement and refusing whanau visitation.”

The minister clarified that there have been over “3,000 audiovisual link visits, which, in many cases, prisoners and their whanau prefer.”

However, the minister agreed with the inspection report that “being isolated for longer periods of time can have a negative impact on the prisoner and their whanau, and more needed to be done to minimise that.”

The Office of the Inspectorate had found that 29% of all prisoners experienced solitary confinement over a 12-month period, and seriously impacted the wellbeing of prisoners as well as their families, according to Waititi.

The report is part of the programme of prison inspections carried out by the Office of the Inspectorate.

Its website states that “the inspection process provides an ongoing invaluable insight into prisons and provides assurance that shortcomings are identified and addressed in a timely way, and examples of good practice are shared across the prison network.”

The Office of the Inspectorate carried out its first inspection of the Auckland South Corrections Facility in September 2017 and identified a number of areas of concern.

The report observed that, overall, the facility was “clean and tidy, although prisoners did not have access to toilets when out of their cells.”

The report added that cells had “good levels of natural light, but some were not clean and showers and toilets lacked privacy.”

The report noted that the mental health needs of prisoners were “generally well catered for and supported by nurses, mental health nurses, psychologists and the forensic team.”

However, the report also noted that some prisoners with physical disabilities felt their needs were not being met.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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