20 years of kaupapa Maori units a major milestone

The 20 year anniversary of Maori Focus Units at prisons marks a major milestone in the use of kaupapa Maori values to help reduce re-offending, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says.

Twenty years ago today New Zealand’s first Maori Focus Unit opened at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison. Four more units have since opened at Rimutaka, Waikeria, Whanganui and Tongariro prisons.

The units, and the kaupapa Māori rehabilitation programme delivered within them, are collectively known as Te Tirohanga. 

“The first unit marked the start of a truly kaupapa Maori approach to rehabilitating prisoners,” Mr Davis says.

“Over 9,300 men have been through Te Tirohanga in the past 20 years, which is a massive achievement for those men, as well as the staff, whanau, kaumātua and iwi involved.

“Introducing something like this would have been a hard sell 20 years ago, and I know people like Sir Pita Sharples spent many years advocating for kaupapa Māori at prisons. Today’s milestone is certainly something to celebrate.”

Te Tirohanga provides a culturally supportive environment with interdisciplinary teams and a whanau centric approach to help prisoners address their offending.

The programme includes a range of tikanga-based courses and activities and regular involvement of local iwi groups.

“Te Tirohanga helps prisoners learn better attitudes and behaviours, strengthens their cultural identity, and motivates them to take up further treatment, education or training opportunities while in prison, Mr Davis says.

“It gives them skills to help stay on track once they’re back in the community, which is good for them and their whanau and critical to keeping our communities safe.”