National | Prison

Māori academic criticises prison policy at urgent hearing

A Māori academic has called past government policies racist and a contributing factor to the high population of Māori in prisons.

Dr Rawiri Waretini-Karena presented evidence in an urgent hearing to the Waitangi Tribunal addressing the Crown's failure to reduce the Māori prison population.

Dr Rawiri Waretini-Karena ha served 11 years in prison. He says past government policies were a contributing factor to his criminal behaviour.

He was presenting evidence today for Tom Hemopo's case concerning the crown’s failure in reducing the Māori prison population.

Hemopo says he worked for the Department of Corrections for 30 years and wants justice for Māori.

“My biggest concern is for Māori women,” says Hemopo, “66% of female prisoners are Maori. So who is looking after our babies, our children? That problem is being pushed back to our old people.”

Waretini-Karena says he knows what it’s like in the system and wants change for future generations.

“I moved away from the marae and the marae was the foundation for all tikanga Māori so our marae became the Chartwell pub so our values weren't taught to us, it was a Once were Warriors life,” says Waretini-Karena.

The Māori prison population is now nearing 5000, and it looks as though that number will continue to grow if a solution isn't found.