The Government's tentative backing of a separate Maori prison has drawn hardline criticism from two unlikely allies, with both Labour and the Sensible Sentencing Trust lining up against it.
Labour law and order spokesman Clayton Cosgrove said the concept of a separate prison centre where the inmates go flatting and the focus is on healing was "mind-boggling".
"Your wife gets raped by a Pakeha, and he goes to the clink, the prison. Your wife gets raped by a Maori person, and he goes off and goes flatting with his mates in some sort of strange separatist concept."
Mr Cosgrove said Labour was for Maori focus units within prisons, but a separate jail with its own rules was a step towards a separate justice system.
"Nowhere in the world have I seen a separate justice and prison system where the criteria is based on race that has worked."
The "alternative rehabilitation centre" is being promoted by Associate Corrections Minister and Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples.
The National Government is open to the concept. Corrections Minister Judith Collins says she is "very keen" if it can be shown to reduce the Maori crime rate.
Dr Sharples wants the 60-bed standalone institution located in an urban centre so
education and employment opportunities can be provided to prisoners who will earn their place by learning Maori and showing a willingness to rehabilitate.
Sensible Sentencing Trust chairman Garth McVicar said Maori were in prison "because they have committed a crime" and should be treated the same as any other offender.
Mr McVicar said he was disappointed in National giving support to the proposal, given the hardline impression it gave voters before the election.
"I don't think there will be any sympathy for a separate prison system from the wider public at all and National will probably take a bit of a hiding for that."
But National were praised by Kim Workman of the liberal-leaning Rethinking Crime and Punishment who said: "Anything that will make a difference is good. Nothing we've done for 15 years has made much difference."
Mr Cosgrove said that while the Maori prison centre was "healing" inmates, their victims' right to be healed and see offenders held to account were lost.
Mr Cosgrove said he was surprised that Act had also supported the concept via its MP David Garrett, the architect of the proposed three strikes law.
"This guy [Mr Garrett] will sell his soul to anyone. And what does it mean - it ends in tears for the victim."By Patrick Gower Email Patrick