Anzac Wallace, who once starred in the movie Utu, has found himself centre stage again at the Government's criminal justice summit.

He sat in the crowd of 700, listening to speakers carrying out introductions and looking at those who walked on the stage.

It came to a point where he could not contain himself, with frustration forcing him to his feet to interrupt proceedings and ask: "Where are Māori?"

The outburst disrupted the smooth flow of the Government's criminal justice summit and thrust a spotlight onto Wallace, and the issue he wanted raised.

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Speaking later, Wallace said he was deeply aware - as were all Māori - of the disproportionate rate of imprisonment. While making up 15 per cent of the population, the percentage of Māori in prison is more than 50 per cent of those in prison.

"I can't see Māori representation, yet the opening address is about Māori in jail. If we are 52 per cent of the prison population, why aren't we 52 per cent of the people speaking?"

Aged 73, Wallace is a veteran of Paremoremo prison and now kai whakaruruhau (guardian/mentor) for the Manukau Urban Māori Authority. He spent 14 years in prison and was released 43 years ago.

He appeared in the Geoff Murphy movie Utu as the guerilla leader Te Wheke.

Wallace said he left prison determined to change the "colour of faces in jail" and had since worked in, and spoken in, prisons in Australia and the United States. He returned to New Zealand 2 ½ years ago and began working with offenders prior to their release from prison.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis sought out former inmate and later star of Utu, Anzac Wallace, after the actor-turned-prison mentor interrupted speakers at the criminal justice summit to raise the plight of Māori.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis sought out former inmate and later star of Utu, Anzac Wallace, after the actor-turned-prison mentor interrupted speakers at the criminal justice summit to raise the plight of Māori.

"We say to young Maori that are in jail that our tupuna didn't walk this land and shed tears on this land for us to be locked up like chickens or pigs in a sty.

Wallace's outburst came a few hours before Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis, of Ngāpuhi, was scheduled to give a speech calling on changes to reduce the number of Māori in prison.

Davis sought out Wallace during a break to explain his hopes for changing the number of Māori in prison.

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Wallace said he believed Davis would make a good contribution.

"To have a Māori in that position is a big change from having a Pakeha in that position."

Justice Minister Andrew Little speaking at the Criminal Justice Summit in Porirua this morning. / Video by Mark Mitchell