The standoff at Waikeria prison has highlighted the failure of our system of imprisonment and
justice. Mihinare Priests Rev. Canon Christopher Douglas-Huriwai, Ven. Michael Tamihere and Ven.
Dr Hirini Kaa lay out some ways Mihinare can respond to these important issues.
Māori currently make up over 50% of the New Zealand prison population even though we are only
around 17% of the total population. This already horrifying statistic is even worse for Wāhine Māori
who currently comprise 63% of the total female prison population. These imbalances are not a case
of Māori simply being more likely to commit crime and therefore more likely to find ourselves
imprisoned. Rather the imbalances that see Māori incarcerated far more than any other group in
Aotearoa can be partly attributed to racism, discrimination and inequality. Data shows that if a
Māori and a non-Māori appear before the same court on the same charge, it is over 10 times more
likely that the Māori defendant will be sent to prison.
And prisons simply do not work. In fact, they make the situation worse, making people more likely to
reoffend, and hurting whānau on the outside. In this we follow the wisdom and expertise of people
like Tā Kim Workman, Professor Tracey McIntosh and Julia Whaipooti. And the conditions and
policies under which our people are kept are frequently dehumanising and damaging. These include
the same racist attitudes that led to Wāhine Māori being tortured in their cells, subjected to gassing,
and unlawfully segregated for months on end. Being sent to prison is the punishment. The prisons
themselves must still meet the human rights of those incarcerated, and from our perspective uphold
the mana and tapu of those in Correction’s care.
As Mihinare Priests we believe that it is our calling to respond to such injustice, to speak truth to
power and to proclaim the Gospel with words and actions. This is consistent with Jesus’ ministry,
calling out the wrongs in society – both immediate and structural. How we treat the weak and poor is
the ultimate measure of our society – not sporting wins nor GDP. This is also consistent with our
history as Mihinare, not standing idly by while our people are subjected to further oppression and
marginalisation. And this is not just a calling for us as Priests. All Mihinare – all people of faith – are
called to respond to these situations. One of the keys though is as Mihinare we respond as Christians
informed and shaped by the mātauranga of this land, not just what “liberal” or “conservative”
Christianity derived from the global North would have us do. And so we have a four actions for you
Understand where your whānau is in this issue. Because of the world-leading imprisonment rates of
Māori in relation to our population, every whānau has a mokopuna or whanaunga in prison. While
their actions may have denigrated the mana and tapu of others, and be a cause for shame for the
whānau, that doesn’t mean what they are going through is deserved or is working. Many are
incarcerated because of structural racism. Most will come out worse than they went in. And prison is
not our tikanga. For many of us we know this situation all too well, and it is a source of great pain
and hurt. But for the rest of us we need to know – and own – our whanaunga and mokopuna in
Blaming structural racism? How will they come out worse? Don’t they deserve it? All important
questions. And as a starting response: Prisons do not work. They do not work in terms of lessening
the chance of re-offending. They do not rehabilitate and heal. They do not restore the mana and
tapu of the victim nor of the offender. They do not meet the tikanga of Jesus nor of our tīpuna. So
take the time (hover over the waters) to understand the causes and solutions involved (which are
complex). Do some reading; talk to people who know; wānanga with your whānau; and study
scripture. Maybe Luke 4:16-20 is a starting place – when Jesus said he had been sent to
proclaim release to the captives, what did he mean? Opening cell doors? Or undoing the structures
that bind our people into poverty and crime?
As Mihinare we have a proud tradition of living out our faith, of our faith to empowering us to act, to
do more, to be more, and to seek the best for one another. Sometimes these actions are big, like
taking over a stadium during an international rugby tour, other times they are humble, like lending a sympathetic ear. One thing remains true however, no matter how big or small, they are never
insignificant. Our tīpuna embraced the power of the written word, and it is to this seemingly simple
tool that we now return. If you feel called to act, then pick up a pen, grab a piece of paper and write
to the Māori Members of Parliament, to OUR members of Parliament (or do it all online, it is 2021
after all) and let them know that even though many of the people who now find themselves
incarcerated may have committed crimes, they are still our whanau, they are still our mokopuna,
and we still love them – they deserve more.
Kia Inoi Tātau
E te Atua aroha,
hai tā ngā karaipiture i whakataua hētia koe he
Ā, i mātau koe ki ngā hua o te whakarauanga:
te noho taratahi;
me te pōrarutanga.
Awhinatia mātau kia maharatia,
ina tirohia ngā kanohi o te mau herehere,
ka kite atu nei hoki i tōu kanohi.
in scripture you were condemned as a criminal
and you knew the isolation,
and the confusion that imprisonment brings.
Help us to remember
that when we look upon the faces of those in
it is your face that we are called to see
Ka inoi mātau,
mō ngā tāngata hara, me te hunga kua
tūkinotia, e te Atua tohu,
whakamanatia rātau ki te whakahou i ō rātau
kia whai tūmanako hoki mō āmuri;
mō te whakarau kua whakaraua hētia,
tukuna kia haere noa.
For those who have hurt others, and those who
are hurt by them, we pray, merciful God,
that they might be enabled to transform their
and be granted hope for the future.
For those imprisoned unjustly,
bring them release we pray.
Ka inoi mātau mō te hunga kawe tikanga kai rō
Meinga mā te aroha rātau e arahi i ngā mea
kia mahara hoki ki to whakahau i roto i a Te
ko tā koutou i mea ai ki te mau herehere, he
meatanga tēnā ki a koe.
We pray for those who who have authority
May they be guided always by compassion
and may they be reminded of your exhortation
that what they do to those in prison they do to
Engari rawa ia, e te Atua, whakamutua atu
ngā hanganga whakaware,
ngā waiaro kaikiri,
me te tāmitanga a te kaiwhakawiri,
e tuku noa ana i tō mātau iwi ki te whakarau.
We pray that the oppressive structures,
and colonial superiority
that condemn our people to prison may cease.
Nei rā, kia pāruretia te utu
e te whakaora,
kia whakawākia ngātahitia mātau
ki te tika me te tohu mutunga kore. Āmine.
That the desire to heal
might overcome the desire for vengeance
and that the seeking of justice
might go hand in hand with the call to mercy.
1 thought on “Mihinare and Prisons: Four Things We Can Do”
So True, the comments about the standoff at Waikeria reinforces the korero about racism. Having worked in the field of rehabilitation I regularly visited the old block at Waikeria, it was not as bad as the old Mount Eden it was pretty awful and that was in the late 80’s. It is time for a change.
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