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A prisoner's cell at Paremoremo Prison, Auckland. Photo/Ken Downie/Listener.

Hōkai Rangi: A plan to reduce number of Māori in prison

Corrections launches major new strategy to reduce Māori in prison from 52 percent to 16.

The Department of Corrections has launched a major new strategy focused on treating prisoners with respect and giving them more access to whānau.

Hōkai Rangi is a five-year strategy which aims to drastically cut the number of Māori in prison from 52 percent down to 16 - to match the overall Māori population.

The plan was announced at Parliament this morning and it details a full suite of changes to the way the prison system is run.

A key focus is whānau and prisoners will get more visits with their families, and more people that they can call while they are behind bars.

Whānau of inmates will also be able to access rehabilitation programmes in the community if they want to.

The strategy states prison staff will be expected to treat prisoners with respect and uphold their mana - like they are worthy of dignity and care.

Kelvin Davis. Photo/Rebekah Parsons-King/RNZ.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said the strategy was rooted in Māori values but would be applied across the board to all inmates.

"The biggest change Hōkai Rangi brings is the idea that we are now going to treat the person and not just their crime," he said.

"The corrections system has focused on punishing people and treating them like the crime they have committed and we know that approach has not worked."

There will be a greater commitment to rehabilitation and reintegration programmes, and kaupapa Māori spaces and services will be rolled out at every prison.

"Access to culture is a fundamental right and it is not a privilege and just because you are in prison doesn't mean to say you should be denied that fundamental right."

The key point was that Māori would be co-designing the Corrections system alongside the department, in a Treaty of Waitangi partnership, Mr Davis said.

"We need to listen to how Māori think we need to be running Corrections and do that in tandem with Māori.

"Our people make up the majority of those in prison and that's gotta stop.

"What we have done for however many decades hasn't worked - so we can't keep defending the status quo."

Hōkai Rangi seeks to change the law to introduce an obligation to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, in the same way the Oranga Tamariki Act did earlier did in July.

A new Deputy Chief Executive-Māori will be employed, too.

It comes two years after the Waitangi Tribunal released a damning report which found Corrections had no specific plan to reduce Māori reoffending.

Corrections chief executive Christine Stevenson said the strategy showed the department's innovation to find new ways of doing things to achieve better outcomes with Māori and their whānau.

"This strategy will underpin transformative and intergenerational change for those in our care and their whānau."

Training will be delivered to management and staff to support them to eliminate racism and bias, and embody and promote Māori values.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.