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'Time to review prison culture in New Zealand'

15 February 2006

'Time to review prison culture in New Zealand'

Dr Pita Sharples; Maori Party Co-leader and Spokesperson for Corrections

"The solution to our over-crowded prisons and our excessively high per-capita prison population lies within the community and not in bricks and mortar" said Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader and Maori Party Spokesperson for Corrections and Maori Affairs.

"Stop building prisons" stated Dr Sharples.

"We must get off this merry-go-round of more inmates - more prisons; more inmates, more prisons. It is a gross mis-conception that prisons play any meaningful role in combatting crime. They merely serve to incarcerate law-breakers in cell-block wings - rather like schools for criminal training" said Dr Sharples.

"Prisons are a waste of tax-payer money - it costs a massive $79,172 to keep one inmate in jail, for one year - food, heating, exercise, lessons in criminal behaviour, are all laid on. It would be cheaper to book an inmate into the Copthorne Hotel for a whole year with all meals supplied. At least the inmate in the hotel would be free from the influence of the criminal element in prisons".

"Every year in New Zealand, the numbers in prison custody increase" said Dr Sharples. "Crime is not decreasing despite the number of prisons we build. Furthermore, the high rates of recidivism amongst inmates show clearly that prisons do not rehabilitate".

"We have to 'snap-out' of this mindset that prison programmes serve to combat crime. Instead we have to return to our communities - the very essence of our society - for both the short-term solutions to prison over-crowding and for long-term solutions to decrease the incidence of crime in Aotearoa".

The Maori Party recommends that it would be far better to place people with community-based organisations, which are properly resourced to provide supervision and oversight for the offender.

"Many inmates are in jail for minor offences and a variety of misdemeanours and do not provide a danger to the safety of the community at large" said Dr. Sharples.

"Our communities have the potential to support offenders to address their behaviour and to benefit from healing towards rehabilitation".

"For long-term solutions, such as the reduction in crime, the community again looks to be the best investment. There is a proliferation of youth-aid agencies paid mega bucks" said Dr Sharples "to 'baby-sit' youth offenders. Sometimes up to five full-time workers are assigned to care for a single youth offender. This waste of money would be more effectively invested in families".

The Maori Party believes it is time to review prison culture in New Zealand.

"A number of institutions should be converted to host a training, healing and rehabilitation unit. Once again the community could assume a major role. Such centres would have just a few jail wardens, but a large number of educators, healers and the like. Each inmate would be assigned a pathway to rehabilitation and to a vocation upon release. But the distinctive feature would be the partnership formed between the prison staff, the inmates and community group to jointly administer the activities of the institution".

Dr Sharples is also concerned that 50% of inmates in New Zealand prisons are Maori.

"This indigenous over-representation is an unfortunate reality shared by many other first nation peoples throughout the world. Maori families must get involved in preventing the onset of criminal activities within their families. We do not believe that our people are inherently criminal".

The Maori Party is happy to work with other political parties to craft a solution, but not just to cater for prison over-crowding but for developing a long-term community involvement.

"We all have a role in addressing what, to the Maori Party, is a blight on our society, said Dr Sharples. "All people have potential and we cannot continue to thwart that potential by incarcerating in the manner that we do".


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