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In 2016, New Zealand’s (NZ) prison population reached its highest-ever level of 10,000 people, with over half being Māori. Māori experience prison conditions and treatments that are undoubtedly harmful and, within five years of being released from prison, 80% of Māori are reconvicted. Within a neo-colonial context, this penal capture is normalised.
This chapter considers how Māori imprisonment is systematically ignored and managed by the NZ state. It demonstrates how state violence and the use of incarceration as a means of controlling Māori have been ignored, within colonial and neo-colonial contexts. The chapter charts three main strands of agnosis: (i) an emphasis on Māori deficits and pathologies; (ii) the distorted incorporation of Māori culture into Correctional processes; and (iii) a denial of structural disadvantage, institutionalised racism and state violence as explanations of ‘crime’. Taken together, these forms of knowledge and institutional processes obscure the neo-colonial contexts that propel high rates of Māori imprisonment and entrench systemic disadvantage and marginalisation. The chapter concludes with a consideration of how ignorance has been resisted through the production of alternative knowledge and actions. In particular, it reflects upon the recent successful claim at the Waitangi Tribunal, in which the Department of Corrections was found to have failed in its role to tackle Māori reoffending. It considers the implications of this resistant counter-knowledge to challenge neo-colonial relations of power and the continued penal capture of Māori.
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A term referring to ‘non-Māori’.
There are two signed versions of the Treaty, English and Māori, with one copy of the English version and eight copies of the Māori version. Controversially, the two versions do not say the same thing. In the English version, Māori cede sovereignty and were guaranteed the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands, estates, forests, fisheries and other properties. In the Māori version, Māori cede Kawanatanga (Governance) and were guaranteed Tino Rangatiratanga (sovereignty) o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa (over lands, settlements and all other treasures).
The combination of war and death from disease saw Māori numbers drop from an estimated 100,000–200,000 at Cook’s arrival to about 40,000 at the start of the twentieth century (Walker 1990).
Māori resistance to Pākehā military forces often frequently equalled or bettered Pākehā. However, the endless stream of military equipment and fighters—well over 12,000 imperial soldiers served alongside local militia during the 1860s alone – eventually saw hostilities come to an end in 1872 (Belich 1986).
Established by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal allows Māori to seek redress against the New Zealand Government for breaches against the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.
New Zealanders also have limited knowledge of the Treaty that contains just three articles. In 2011, researchers undertook a survey with 750 adult New Zealanders. They found that just 18% reported that they knew ‘a lot’ about the Treaty (among Māori respondents, this number increased to 33%) (UMR 2011).
In 1936, Māori constituted 11% of the prison population; this had increased to 21% by 1945. Rates increased significantly from 1955, such that Māori were 40% of the prison population by 1971 and over 50% by 1980 (McIntosh and Goldmann 2017).
Traditionally, Māori hold a collective view of responsibility.
Ron Mark, NZ First. Hansard, 23 November 2005, p. 445.
Chris Tremain, National Party. Hansard, 12 Feb 2009, p. 1238.
Judith Collins, National Party. Hansard, 27 July 2010.p. 12731–12733.
The Māori-focused strategic plans occurred regularly up to 2013. The omission to continue with these key policy documents resulted in a Waitangi Tribunal claim being made against the Department of Corrections in 2015 (explored below).
For instance: Whare Oranga Ake, Tai Aroha, Te Whakakotahitanga, Te Aō Marama, Te Whare Whakaahuru, Te Hikoinga, Te Whare Tirohanga Māori, Whānui, Pou Arataki, Kaiwhakamana, Kaitiaki, Tiaki Tangata, Mauri Tū Pae, Te Kupenga, Te Ara Māori, Tikanga Māori (Campbell 2016) to name a few.
The general NZ rate is currently around 210 per 100,000 population. This, in itself, is high compared to other liberal democracies, such as Australia (162), England and Wales (145), Scotland (138), or Canada (114) (International Centre for Prison Studies 2017).
Following the September 2017 election, a coalition government was formed between the Labour Party and NZ First, with the Green Party engaged in a confidence and supply agreement.
The Prime Minister Bill English intervened, saying that this was ‘not right’—everyone had human rights, but offenders would have different legal rights.
In 2015, a Canadian federal court found that risk assessment tools ‘lack scientific rigour and reliability in relation to Aboriginal offenders’ and are ‘susceptible to cultural bias’ (Cunneen and Tauri 2016: 159). Risk tools fail to consider the historic or contemporary nature of colonisation and its impacts on indigenous peoples (ibid.).
This narrative could be challenged by the new government’s pledge to establish an Inquiry into the state abuse of children.
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- Managing Ignorance About Māori Imprisonment
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