Every second person serving a prison sentence in New Zealand is Maori. About 50 per cent of the people in jail come from 14 per cent of the population. That stark statistic is not news; it has been so for as long as New Zealanders can remember, though we have been reluctant to recognise the reason.
The explanation cannot be simply social disadvantage. Maori are not the only ethnic minority in this country which suffers disproportionate poverty and discrimination in employment, housing, business and other opportunities. And they are not the only conspicuous minority which catches the attention of police or gives an adverse impression in court. But members of other minorities do not commit crime in comparable proportions. What is the matter with Maori?
That question is very much the elephant in the room - what IS wrong with Maori? To his credit, Sharples is prepared to admith that there is a problem, and has proposed a solution which builds upon the Maori Focus Units he was involved in establishing 11 years ago - interestingly, while a National government was in power.
And the writer closes on the theme of mana-enhancement, which seems to have become the buzz-phrase between National and the Maori Party:
The criminal rehabilitation unit sounds better than building another prison and probably cheaper. As Dr Sharples has said, at $80,000 a year to accommodate someone in prison it would be cheaper to put them in a hotel. The unit will sound too much like a motel for many. But it would be run by a Maori committee involving local iwi or hapu. It is the sort of initiative that can enhance the autonomy and mana of many besides the inmates concerned.
No doubt Maori would prefer many areas of public administration before prison administration but there are none in which the Maori statistics are worse. It is a proposal that deserves a trial.
We concur. IF Dr Sharples can make a good case that these units WILL significantly reduce reoffending rates for Maori, a trial would be worthwhile. Doing something is infinitely preferable to doing nothing.