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Tariana Turia on 'Corrections'

General Debate

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Māori Party

Wednesday 22 February 2006

Civil Rights leader and orator Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said that life's most urgent question is, "What are you doing for others?"

Madam Speaker, the answer to that question in the prisons of this country, is depressing.

The report of the Ombudsman released last Christmas described the shameful shadow of neglect that hung over our penal walls.

The report described inefficiencies in the basics - things like access to clothing, dentists and books.

It outlined a lack of employment and vocational programmes, despite the fact that access to meaningful work or training is a key departmental goal to reducing re-offending.

The report went further to describe substandard recreational facilities, sloppy sentence management plans, inadequate procedures to record information, and an overall inconsistency in terms of inmate management and policy.

Perhaps the most damning finding was the revelation that the Corrections Department was painting a picture that differed greatly to reality. As the Ombudsman stated

"while a casual reading of the department's public documents might suggest it is substantially meeting those ideals and intents for prisoners, our conclusion is that this is not the case".

It is hardly a good news story. Unless of course you like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Yesterday, the Minister of Correction tried on that gown of deception, when I asked when the report into the detention and treatment of prisoners will be taken seriously, particularly urgent recommendations relating to conditions that breach international human rights standards

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The Minister’s response was “I have every confidence we are meeting those standards right now”.

Madam Speaker, this is not a fairytale. Bad Girls is a TV programme - not the curriculum for NZ jails.

Budget blowouts, poor accountancy practices, prison breakouts, emergency measures to accommodate extra inmates such as double-bunking, industrial disputes over safety, all make for the stuff of horror stories.

And still our jails are bulging at the seams.

The Māori Party, for one, is going to de-robe the deception, and demand change. We do not want cosmetic change - changing the colour of the paint on the cell-walls.

We demand major change. Culture change.

In a report on prison and re-offending released today, the Salvation Army has recommended a multi-party agreement to deal with issues of crime and punishment in a non-partisan way. The report calls for some principled, courageous leadership to turn prisons around. The Maori Party has heard this call, and supports it with all our will. We must turn this crisis around before it is too late.

The biggest flaw in the prison mentality is the proliferation of psychologists, who would, if we allowed:

- diagnose (children in utero) as potential crims;

- identify their Criminogenic Needs;

- assess you for Maori Culturally Related Needs if you happen to be Māori,

- apply a dosage of bicultural therapy; and

- finish it off by applying the Risk of (Re)conviction and Risk of Imprisonment (Jail House RoC n RoI) tools.

We will not tolerate any more tinkering with a system that is clearly falling apart. We suggest three easy solutions.

The first is to look elsewhere. We hope that in his recent trip to Finland, the Minister picked up on some key strategies for success:

- political will and consensus to bring down the incarceration rate;

- a close relationship between politicians, researchers, criminologists, experts in understanding crime;

- a sober and reasonable attitude from the media towards criminal policy;

- resistance to low-level populism in keeping crime control out of election campaigns.

The second is to look here, at some of the excellent ideas just waiting to be read - the Ombudsman’s Christmas reading; the Roper Report; Moana Jackson’s He Whaipanga Hou: A new perspective; the Salvation Army’s report would all be a pretty good start.

Finally the best source of investment for sustainable solutions is to look to our whānau - to stop the politicking, and ask our families for help. And that includes discussions with the families of the victims and the families of the offenders.

Discussions which are held within a context where we, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, as “individuals can rise above our narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity”.

A humanity Madam Speaker, which is being seriously eroded in the system we currently have.

May I remind the Minister that just five months ago, the Waitangi Tribunal recommended that:

“Mâori communities have significant interests in the goal of reducing Mâori offending and the use of Mâori culture to help achieve that goal.”

Is the Minister prepared to speak with Maori communities or does such an approach fall in to the “ethnic targetting no-go zone” promoted by his Government!

What are you doing for others? Well how about investing in them - not bricks and mortar; not diagnostic codes and treatment plans; but real tangible resources, to help families to help themselves. All it takes is the political will to make the change.


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