NZ Herald on Maori prison unit

While Labour is attacking it, the NZ Herald welcomes the Sharples proposal:

As Dr Sharples envisages it, a 60-bed unit would be established in an urban centre close to educational services and jobs. The inmates would earn places by learning to speak Maori and prove their good intentions by becoming literate and working for charitable or community projects.

Though locked in at night they would be more like flatmates than inmates, sharing facilities, learning to live together, associating with their families, the community and their victims. All going well they could be released after four months.

It sounds more like a pre-release hostel than a prison and the cultural element might be no more intensive than the Maori focus units already operating inside five prisons. They were set up with Dr Sharples’ help 11 years ago and their inmates have recorded a reoffending rate about 7 per cent lower than the general prison rate. Since the units probably attract the better-motivated inmates, the improvement does not seem startling.

Clayton Cosgrove has outraegously scaremongered that this is some sort of seperate prison that Maori would get sentenced to. As the Herald points out it would merely be a specialist unit for suitable prisoners nearing release. A number of prisons already have pre-release units where prisoners flat together and learn some living skills.

A stand-alone unit may be a long way from adoption and National may remain sceptical of its worth. But it owes the Maori Party a concession, especially after ruling out Maori electorates for Auckland’s proposed Super City.

Actually I think the quid pro quo for no Maori seats will be signing the UN declaration on Indiginous Rights.

The criminal unit sounds better than building another prison and probably cheaper. As Dr Sharples has said, at $80,000 a year to accommodate someone in prison it would be cheaper to put them in a hotel. The unit will sound too much like a motel for many. But it would be run by a Maori committee involving local iwi or hapu. It is the sort of initiative that can enhance the autonomy and mana of many besides the inmates concerned.

Like Judith Collins, I am pragmatic on this. Will it reduce Maori reoffending, and lead to less victims of crime? If so, then worth supporting. Just like specialist units deal with sex offenders – the final stage rehabiliation before release should be targeted as there is no one cure all method of rehabilitation.

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