Kelvin Davis admits parts of prison system ‘extremely racist’

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has admitted parts of the prison system are “extremely racist” and says that’s why the Government is asking Māori to work with it to get this right.

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The Corrections Minister says his department has taken the bull by the horns in telling Maori it needs to work with them. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Davis has tonight defended his ambitious new strategy to reduce the high numbers of Māori in prison to be in line with the number from the general population. If the strategy called Hōkai Rangi is successful, Māori will no longer make up 52 per cent of inmates, but just 16 per cent. 

“Look I believe there are parts if the system that are extremely racist,” the minister said when questioned on TVNZ1’s Q+A tonight.

“That’s why we’re saying to Māori, ‘work with us.’ And Corrections has taken the bull by the horns. They’d be the first government department to actually say, ‘Māori we need to really work with you, walk alongside you and get this right for our people’,” he said.

Asked by interviewer Jack Tame what parts of the system he thinks are the most racist at the moment, Mr Davis said you just need to look at the numbers.

“Why is it that Māori are over-represented? They’re prosecuted for similar crimes that other people aren’t,” he said.

Tame said some people would say that’s because Māori are committing these crimes.

“And we can go back and talk about how history has impacted on outcomes for Māori. We can talk about all those sorts of things but Hōkai Rangi is about actually looking at the Corrections system and making sure that it works and it is effective for our people,” Mr Davis replied.

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At the moment 52 per cent of inmates are Māori. Source: 1 NEWS

Asked should the training provided to Corrections staff be extended to police, Mr Davis said there are “all aspects of the system” that can be improved but his responsibility is for Corrections.

“And I’m making sure that Corrections from now and into the future is going to actually work alongside Māori to make sure that we get the best outcomes for Māori because everyone benefits.”

He said we spend over $100,000 a year per person to lock them up when we should be looking at other alternatives.

The Hōkai Rangi strategy will include a big focus on prisoner whānau with more family visits and phone calls. And Māori prisoners will spend more time in Māori units. 

Mr Davis said he doesn't want it to take generations for the country to see this change.