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Prisons No Place For Maori

The Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon is pushing for prisons to be run by Iwi. This is reckless and ill thought out.

Iwi-run prisons will transfer the punitive functions of the state to Māori. Running prisons is leveraging off the oppression of our people. Indigenous Pacific Uprising (IPU) will oppose this all the way.

The handing over of prison control is not about restoration of Indigenous models of justice, or just-ness. Iwi-run prisons just transfer the punitive functions of the state to Māori. Meng Foon’s statements serve only to continue the incarceration of Māori, while also distancing the Crown from accountability. IPU is against all forms of incarceration, and supports only the decarceration and defunding of prisons, with a clear intent for abolishment. Running prisons is leveraging off the oppression of our people, and Iwi have no ethical or cultural standing in investing in the ongoing oppression of our people. The investment needs to be in changing the lock-down mentality of the existing system. The mass incarceration and locking up of our people in cages is not a solution for anything, Māori run or otherwise.

“It’s a whole process of dehumanisation. The criminal justice system and the prison system are key in the colonial project within the armoury of the settler colonial state,” says Sina Brown-Davis.

“Prisoners are human beings, with human rights, we are sick of the sadistic and vengeful attitude that this country has towards prisoners. We are sick of a racist and punitive system that has resulted in the mass incarceration of Māori.”

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The UN has released report after report after report about the dire human rights conditions of incarcerated people in Aotearoa. And it’s getting worse. Systemic racism, colonisation, and neoliberalism have declared these people disposable, and Foon’s call for iwi-run prisons does nothing to change, or even counter this.

We have a system of mass incarceration, a wide variety of laws and institutional practices ranging from racial profiling to biased sentencing policies. Māori are trapped in a virtual and very literal cage, where we live in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

Spokesperson for IPU, Tāwhana Chadwick states "at the end of the day I don't believe this is the future our tupuna dreamed for us. It's not what they had in mind for us to continue being a fodder of an oppressive state and an oppressive system."

Mass incarceration has been normalised, as an experience for us, and all the assumptions that give rise to that system are embraced and internalised by people from all walks of life, and in every major political party. Mass incarceration is the most thoroughly implemented government social programme of our time.

The prison industrial complex cannot be reformed or brown-washed; it can only be abolished.

Abolition is about dismantling oppressive systems of social control and returning those resources to rebuild and support out communities. Decolonisation must include the dismantling of the prison-industrial complex. It is not only decarceration, but it’s dismantling all those systems of social control.

Our freedom cannot replicate the systems that have abused and oppressed us. As prison abolitionists we agree with Angela Davis that “[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society especially those produced by racism and capitalism.” Meng Foon’s sentiments indicate no real intentions for transformation, or for justice. And IPU rejects them completely.

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