Community support vital to success of Whare Oranga Ake

  • Pita Sharples

The ceremonial start to construction of a new rehabilitation unit at Hawkes Bay Prison marks a philosphical shift in corrections policy and practice, according to Associate Corrections Minister Dr Pita Sharples.

Unlike most prisons, which are built to keep people apart, Dr Sharples said the new Whare Oranga Ake is based on Maori philosophies, and marks a new beginning.

“In Maori tradition, building a house is about building family and community.” he said.

“Constructing this building must also begin a process of rebuilding a sense of community. That is what Whare Oranga Ake is all about.”

“Whare Oranga Ake are for training and repatriating prisoners to life outside, and also preparing the community to receive and support offenders at the end of their sentence. Often a lack of outside support makes the transition back into the community too difficult for prisoners to achieve,” said Dr Sharples.

Dr Sharples said the philosophy of Whare Oranga Ake is a challenge to conventional approaches to crime and punishment, and he praised the Department of Corrections for embracing the kaupapa so positively.

“The design for the Whare Oranga Ake programme is truly offender-centric, and for the Department, this is a radically different model for partnerships with other agencies,” he said.

He also paid tribute to his government Ministerial colleagues for their courage in giving the new approach a trial run.

“It shows they recognise that Maori philosophies, and the strength of Maori communities, may offer solutions to some of our most intractable social issues,” he said.

Prisoners would also have to show courage, to break out of entrenched attitudes and patterns of behaviour that lead so many prisoners to reoffend.

“Whare Oranga Ake can provide guidance and support, but in the end, it is up to the people themselves to take the steps to change. I am just pleased that enough prisoners have indicated they are willing to have a go.”

Dr Sharples said the greatest challenge of Whare Oranga Ake is to the wider community, who often feel that imprisonment is not an issue that concerns them directly.

“It affects everyone, because it is almost impossible for prisoners to rejoin and contribute to communities who don’t want to know them. In effect, they remain banished from society, even after release from prison. That attitude has to change,” he said.

“Right now is a good time for New Zealanders to ask ourselves – how can I support? How can I contribute to this building project? How can I help to make my community a better place?

“Whare Oranga Ake challenge all of us in society, at some level, to make changes to break the cycle of reoffending,” said Dr Sharples.

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