The previous National Government and the current Labour one are still intent on building a $1 billion prison at Waikeria to lock more of our people away.

No one has asked us but we absolutely disagree. The then Prime Minister, Bill English, said it was unethical and uneconomic.

Minister Kelvin Davis is having equal misgivings. But here we are faced with the prospect of being the second most incarcerated people in the world, Māori that is, and the irony of it is that previous to Pakeha arriving here 250 or so years ago, Māori had no prisons at all.

I suggest that since European blood has infiltrated our Māori blood, it's this side of us that contains the criminal element, not the Māori blood.

25 years ago when the Hawke's Bay Prison was built at Mangaroa, our leaders at the time asked the Government how much it was costing to build and when given the answer they suggested that 50 per cent of that amount be given to Ngāti Kahungunu to keep our people out through teaching te reo, greater numeracy and literacy and greater focused education outcomes for Māori.


This wasn't heeded of course and now we have 50 per cent of the prison population being Māori males and 68 per cent of the female prison population being Māori.

I sit on the Police Commissioners Panel and in the report called "Turning of the Tide" it was revealed that Māori are six times more likely to get apprehended than non-Māori for the same incident, are six times more likely to get convicted and six times more likely to receive a more severe sentence.

In essence, the justice system from apprehension to arrest, conviction and sentencing was inherently racist.

And that is what our politicians are wringing their hands over because "justice" not fairness is out the front in political sound bites at every election by every political party and political lobby group.

As revealed in the Turning of the Tide Report, the main crime of all offenders is illiteracy and innumeracy which is the inability to read or write and comprehend consequences against actions. Here is the Ngāti Kahungunu solution.

We have just invested in Animated Research Limited, an Information Technology company headed by Ian Taylor from Raupunga, that specialises in sports graphics such as the America's Cup, Golf, Cricket, Volvo Racing around the world through its animations. They have also created a virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) model for numeracy and literacy which, alongside the Methodist Mission, has been trialled in Otago Prison resulting in 100 per cent success rate.

This product takes the inmate to workplaces where they learn to read and write based on recognition of tools, engineering and mechanical components and the application of tools to the situation. For example, inmates are not allowed to use screwdrivers, spanners, allen keys and so on in training, but in virtual reality they can apply these tools to the engine parts, learn the names and numbers and the components to then translate that into writing and arithmetic.

Corrections and justice staff have already witnessed the successful programme and for Ngāti Kahungunu this is the alternative to building a $1b prison as it takes inmates out of prison into trades and vocations unavailable to them prior to their offending. We have been canvassing Corrections regionally and nationally to bring this programme to the Hawke's Bay Prison and then into all prisons.


Further to that, if this programme could be adapted to meet the needs of pre-school and junior school flowing through to High School students, then this would revolutionise the whole social mobility into a positive contributor of momentum. Our education system has failed and continues to fail society, particularly Māori, who would be potentially housed in a new billion-dollar prison.

Ngāti Kahungunu says more numeracy, more literacy – less hypocrisy and duplicity. We possess the tools for the future with our partners ARL and the Methodist Mission.

We invite minister Kelvin Davis and his colleagues to meet with us to discuss one of the most positive social upheavals we could imagine. More reading and writing, less bleeding and fighting. We don't need any more prisons. Our goal is to empty them out.

*Ngahiwi Tomoana is Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated chairman