Maori and prison: Probation introduces Maori principles

By Yvonne Tahana

Government should boost spending on services for ex-prisoners, especially short-termers, says advocate.

"Our bottom line is about ensuring the safety of our communities and the safety of the public", says Lawrence Tawera.
"Our bottom line is about ensuring the safety of our communities and the safety of the public", says Lawrence Tawera.

The Community Probation Service says it has institutionalised Maori concepts in the hope it will cut reoffending rates.

Corrections has a 2017 goal of slashing rates by 25 per cent, a target that minister Anne Tolley says will result in 18,500 fewer victims of crime each year.

A little under 1000 probation officers around the country deal with between 36,000 and 40,000 cases - 46 per cent of which will be related to people who are Maori.

Community Probation director of Maori practice leadership Lawrence Tawera said that from 2009 to last year the service went through a period of soul-searching to see if it could contribute to reducing reoffending.

"Our bottom line is about ensuring the safety of our communities and the safety of the public. One of the key ways that Corrections can do that is through reducing reoffending."

During that period CP instituted He Raranga Hou, a new way of working for probation officers which emphasises principles such as manaakitanga (hospitality, kindness) and whanaungatanga (a sense of familial connection) in their interactions with people on parole.

Mr Tawera, a former probation officer, said the idea was to build a solid foundation from the first interaction between the officer and the released offender. "I think a good officer, for me it's someone who has the ability to relate and actually engage and talk with people at a level they understand. I don't think you can come across as officious or someone talking down."

It's an approach that is being used for all ex-prisoners - not just Maori.

"Of course there's a school of thought out there in the public they would like to see these types of people, especially those who might be in for more serious offending, to be locked up and throw away the key. But that doesn't happen in reality and eventually these guys have to be released into the community."

Sensible Sentencing trust Garth McVicar said the changes sounded like a former Corrections programme called He Ara Hou, which he called a disaster.

"What they are experimenting with now I don't see anything different. In a nice world that's the way we should treat people, the way we would like to be treated ourselves. But I don't think in the real world we're dealing with a lot of the issues those people have got."

On parole

*Once prisoners are released, they must report to a Community Probation office within 72 hours.
*An Offender Plan, a contract between an individual and an officer, is developed. May include conditions around employment and training.
*For offences such as murder, an individual might be on parole for the rest of their lives.

- NZ Herald

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