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Bob Edlin

Reforms to restore prisoners’ mana

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The unnamed bloke who strangled British backpacker Grace Millane in a case of “rough sex” taken too far (according to his defence lawyer) was found guilty of her murder yesterday.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

There was a time when he could expect to be sentenced to life imprisonment, a misnomer for a jail term that might result in his being detained at her majesty’s pleasure for 20 years or so – perhaps less.

This would make him a prisoner or prison inmate.  But not on Kelvin Davis’ watch as Minister of Corrections.

Davis is keen to have miscreants’ mana restored in establishments where prison officers are encouraged to regard the people in their custody not as a ‘prisoner’ or ‘offender’ but as ‘men in our care’ (at least in a prison for men).

We imagine transsexual inmates might take grave offence at being regarded as “men in our care”, but prison bosses seem to have anticipated this and in Tongariro Prison the flawed citizens in their care are being called “paihere”.

This –  according to the dictionary we consulted – means “bundle”.

But Topia Rameka, recently appointed Deputy Chief Executive – Maori for the Department of Corrections, explained to Stuff that the term paihere was developed in 2016 in consultation with local iwi, Ngati Tuwharetoa, specifically for use at Tongariro.

Pai refers to the “wellness action” while here is the gathering, learning and collection of knowledge, according to Corrections.

According to a report at Newshub, the softened prison vocabulary is  part of a new plan to reduce reoffending.  

Corrections has 10,000 prisoners in its custody and it wants to give them their mana back – by not calling them ‘prisoners’.

At Tongariro Prison, inmates are known as Paihere, referring to a group trying to be better people.

“At the end of the day, everyone in our care and custody are humans,” said Corrections Deputy CEO for  Māori Topia Rameka.

There are also prisons, like Waikeria in Waikato that are using first names.

Rameka says he wants focus on rehabilitating.

“Addressing people by their first names is a normal situation and we encourage that for our staff,” he told Newhsub.

It’s part of a five year Government plan to reduce recidivism and rehabilitate.

Guards are encouraged to call inmates ‘people in our care’.

This is the consequence of a policy shift announced in August when a strategy to reduce Māori reoffending was launched.

We learned then that …

Corrections is hiring a Māori deputy chief executive as part of the Government’s strategy launched to break the cycle of Māori reoffending and imprisonment in New Zealand.  

The strategy, announced by Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis, is called Hōkai Rangi, and will focus on improving “wellbeing and outcomes” for Māori. 

“The over-representation of Māori in our prisons is devastating to whānau, hapū, and iwi. Our Government is committed to taking action to fix this,” Davis said. 

The strategy will include “changing the language” around Māori in the care and management of Corrections by not using words such as “muster” to refer to a collection of prisoners. 

We suggest the Greens take note. They don’t have party whips – they have musterers.

We also draw attention to the discriminatory nature of the new strategy and its implementation and to the influence of The Treaty.

When explaining the latest developments, Davis said the aim is to help prisoners, especially Māori, turn their lives around – so it’s important to have staff treat inmates with dignity.

Especially Māori?

The treatment of non-Māori criminals, we may suppose, is a lesser priority.

The Nats – of course – have denounced the government for  taking its soft-on-crime approach to a new level by refusing to call people in prison prisoners.  Corrections spokesman David Bennett said:

 “In an absurd move, Corrections is now calling prisoners ‘men in our care’ or ‘clients’. This is ridiculous.

“The new language has come out of the Government’s new strategy Hōkai Rangi and shows just how delusional this Government and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis really are. If someone is sent to prison it’s because they have committed a serious crime, they are not there to be ‘cared for’ by Corrections.

“If you do the crime, you should do the time. Going to prison is a punishment and shouldn’t be treated as a holiday.

“Kelvin Davis is focused on prisoners, not victims. He’s more interested in reducing the prison population than he is on the safety of New Zealanders.”

Good point.

Actually, Davis perhaps deserves credit for reducing the prison muster to zero merely by eradicating words like “muster” and “prisoner”.

But what do prison warders (if we can call them that any more) make of this?

Not much, according to Stuff: 

Corrections has begun calling prisoners “men in our care” in a move slammed by staff, according to well-placed sources.

Some officers are also being asked to address prisoners by their first names instead of their surnames, as was previously standard practice.

The raft of new terms also includes the te reo word paihere in lieu of prisoners, which in its noun form translates to “bundle”.

Stuff quotes “a source close to a major South Island prison” who said none of his Corrections colleagues were taking the change seriously.

“It’s nuts.

“They obviously think it’s a bit of a joke.”

At Point of Order we hesitate to use the word “nuts”  in this context, because it is disrespectful to people suffering from mental illnesses, but in this case it’s a direct quote from someone who will soon be employing a much more caring vocabulary.

Another Stuff source, described as a senior Corrections officer, said he had previously been told to refer to prisoners as  “clients” rather than “offenders”.

“That was bad enough,” he said.

But he was stunned when a new direction came from top brass ordering staff to refer to prisoners as “paihere”.

“It is ridiculous.”

Corrections Association of New Zealand president Alan Whitley is disapproving of the the new language, too.

“They’re not in our care, they’re in our custody, our legal custody.”

He also had concerns about the use of paihere instead of prisoner because the legislation used the term prisoner.

Charges for incidents such as assaults in prison could be compromised if the legislation was not updated properly, he said.

Some older Corrections staff felt uncomfortable using the prisoners’ first names rather than surnames, while some prisoners also preferred to be addressed by their surnames, Whitley said.

“They’re not our friends, they’re in our custody.”

Rameka told Stuff the shift away from terms like “prisoner” and “offender” was in line with the Hōkai Rangi strategy for 2019-2024.

Part of the strategy was helping to build closer relationships with Māori, he said.

“While the strategy builds on many of the good things that we are doing to help rehabilitate and reintegrate people to reduce re-offending, it also outlines the need for us to provide a humanising and respectful environment that provides people with the skills and resilience needed to safely and successfully transition back into the community on release.”

Davis said the strategy is about ensuring the government is doing everything it can to help people turn their lives around while they’re inside, and reduce reoffending when a prisoner is released, so we have fewer victims of crime and safer communities.

One of the “key outcomes” of the strategy was to humanise and heal inmates, Davis said.

“An important part of that involves staff treating people with respect and dignity.

“For example, at some prisons staff now refer to prisoners by their first names. It’s such a simple but important change – and a great way to engage someone in prison and uphold their mana.”

Point of Order suggests the strategy could be taken much further.

People who have been charged with theft or robbery should be regarded as property redistributors.

And the unnamed bloke found guilty of murder?

No, his mana will not be readily restored if we brand him a murderer.  A population downsizer, perhaps.

This article was first published on the Point of Order blog HERE.