Monday, February 11, 2008

Maori and prison

"....under this Government we have more Maori in prison than we've ever had before...."

So says Dennis O'Reilly responding to Shane Jones who is having another "crack" at Maori gangs.

What Mr O'Reilly says is true. But it would have been true if it was claimed about any government since Maori started to move to the towns and cities.

The prison population, since the second world war, has steadily risen as has the proportion that is Maori.

According to the Howard League in the 1920s 4% of the prison population were Maori, rising to 6% in the 1930s and 15% by 1940. By 1989 they formed 49% of the prison population.

The earlier low prison rates were not because Maori were more peaceful and law-abiding, a view some politicians proffer. The evidence points to them resulting from Maori and Pakeha forming quite separate societies.

Moana Jackson says that today's offending by Maori cannot be divorced from the spiritual and material poverty created by the ongoing consequences of colonisation.

Yet the victims of Maori crime tend to be Maori and if they want the protection provided by a system of law and order, which includes prisons, then colonisation has afforded them this.

Material poverty? Hundreds of thousands of low income Maori have had jobs, raised balanced kids and stayed out of serious trouble so that doesn't cut it either.

Spiritual poverty? What exactly is that? Alan Duff might describe it as self-loathing which prevents the individual from caring about anyone else. That I can accept but who causes it? Who crushes the spirit in people? Those closest to them I'm afraid.

Dennis O'Reilly clearly believes the high Maori imprisonment rate is a problem for government to solve. It isn't. It is a problem for individuals to solve. I know a young man who's father is in and out of prison, who has attempted to get his son into a gang. So far, apart from a minor misdemeanour, the youth is OK, holding down a job and involved in sport. I would say his mother has made the difference, countering the father's input. I have helped him put together a CV and we've sent off job applications in the area he is interested in. I helped him with a passport application form. Little things. But his mother cares about him and I care about them both.

It is individuals and their relationships that make a difference. Not faceless intangible social systems overseen by governments. All they are good for is blaming and buck-passing.

1 comment:

Blue Belle said...

I agree, Lindsay.

As I said on my blog:
If they (gang members) truly want youths to live honest lives, and want to be part of helping that happen, the formula is very simple.
1. Quit that gang
2. Go to the police and confess to any and all crimes you have committed.
3. If convicted, do your time.
4. Get a real job and work hard.
5. Then you can talk to young people about taking personal responsibility for your life.