Imprisonment: Punishment, Rehabilitation and Community Safety - A Balancing Act Between Individual Rights Against Community Rights to Safety: What Do Our Prisons Offer?

 June Jackson, Ngati Maniapoto, Member, National Parole Board


Tena tatou katoa. Te mihi tuatahi ki to tatou matua ki te rangi  no nana nga mea katoa. Te mihi tuarua ki a ratou kua wheturangatia ki te rangi noho mai koutou ki te taha o te Atua. A ka huri mai ki te kanohi ora tena koutou tena koutou tena tatou katoa.

 Well I have to confess that I was hoping you would all go now because it is four o’clock and we all have pressing things to do, because I came down with papers for a Pakeha audience and when I got here I saw all you “guns” and I was thinking I was totally disoriented.   What do I tell the “guns” who know everything about what has happened to us as a people. So I stand here quite apprehensive because I feel humble that so many of you here today have done so much more than I have in terms of working for our people. To stand here before you makes me a bit whakama. Anyway I will give you my best shot.

 What I have to say to you is to share my experiences of eleven years on the National Parole Board. Whatever I might say it is not intended to offend but to say to you this is how I see the world.  But before I begin I want to acknowledge that I spoke to my colleagues here Hemana [Waaka] and Des [Ripi] who have worked in the jails for many years and I said to them 

 “hey listen bros, you might have to come and help me because I don’t know what to say to these people that they don’t already know. “


Maybe one thing you don’t know are my experiences, so perhaps that’s where I’ll begin. I’ve got all the papers here too which I can get copied for your files – they are all about structured decision-making and kaupapa Maori for Maori in prisons and National Parole Board Reports. As a Maori on the National Parole Board for over 10 years I have seen and heard what the majority of other New Zealanders never see.

 Working on that Board has had a profound effect on my spirit and my outlook on life. There is a deep sadness within me constantly for those involved - inmates and victims and families. In preparing for each Parole Board meeting, I go through their files and after reading the cruel acts of one human-being to another, my first reaction is to let the inmate know what a low life he is.

 But when this Maori comes into the room and he is so pathetic and skinny, and looking at the ground and I think THIS person did ALL these terrible things. Then I start to think a bit more, but usually we have a verbal fight. I always have a fight with the “lifers” particularly if they are Maori.  After we’ve had the fight if they haven’t thrown their chair at me or stormed out of the room and called me an “F’ing B” we get on with the business.

 I want to tell you that such an approach, and some of the other things I have done on the Board have ensured that I have many friends in the prisons. Most of those Maori who are in there for life sentences become my friends in the true sense of the word.  There is a fellow member on the Board, who every time he hears that evil side of what we are, he is totally shattered. He cannot believe that our people are capable of such cruelty.  He always says to them, because he just can’t comprehend it, he always says  

Listen boy, you go to your whänau and hapu,  they are the ones that are gonna help you   

But it is their whänau that put them there. 

I have difficulties because that is the world of reality that I live in when I hear that some of them have been brought up with violence and that they have seen everything there is to see.  Where they have seen their parents having sex, where they see their mother getting a hiding and then they are tied up and kept in the dog kennel and that’s their house for their childhood.  

How on earth are they going to rise above that when they have no understanding of remorse or regret for what they have done?  For me without a doubt in the 11 years that I have been there: 90% of the Maori inmates that appear, their upbringing and family life have a sameness, alcohol with recurring, regular hidings, no love, no nothing. Many were Social Welfare children, and had no family support.

 The victims’ family’s lives are changed forever too. Quite often they request that the offender never be released and in some instances I agree with them, but the law doesn’t.   The law says unless you have been sentenced to preventative detention, you get out at a certain time. If they get preventative detention, (and some of our people have that sentence,) they are in prison for 30-40 years. That is a long time.

 I often get angry when I hear members of the public saying “this person should never be let out” and all the raruraru. But you cannot. I used to feel like that until I worked on the Board and I could see for myself that in a lot of instances they never had a chance in life.

 Earlier I mentioned a personal sadness – it is created by the knowledge that between 3-5 new jails are to be built by 2010. Who do you think those jails are for? Obviously the Corrections Department have done their research and they say that these are the jails for OUR people. So the challenge for us is to make them out to be liars, so that our people will not fill up those jails.

 Our young men today hold Jake Heke from the film Once Were Warriors as a hero. Despite all the good things, both you and I know that this is the reality that they live in (and some of you do too). Many of our young men today think that, but there are some exceptions.

 Even in 1999 our Maori youth believe their fathers are great when their mothers gets a hiding. This was overheard. I was there. These boys were sitting around the table at Whakawatea having a cup of tea after their te reo and tikanga classes and this boy says  

“Yeah bro, my mother, my father gave her a bloody good hiding last night. The bitch deserved it”

In 1999? And I’m thinking “Who am I to believe”, here we are, saying wonderful things about ourselves, but my experiences are quite the opposite. And so there is this despair in me because I don’t believe that anything we do is only the very tip of the iceberg. My experience has taught me that it is going to take between 15 and 20 years to effect the right changes.

I want to talk about the Department of Corrections because Corrections have their favourites when it comes to programmes.  One of their favourites is Sir Norman Perry, I mean no disrespect to Sir Norman because he has been a part of the justice system for many, many years. Therefore when Sir Norman raises his hand for programmes he gets them, and there are other groups too if they raise their hands they get the nod.

I recall having a huge debate with Corrections staff about Sir Norman where I said  

“Why are you are so comfortable with Sir Norman? Is it because he is a Pakeha and so you trust him with your money? But when it comes to us, you turn us upside down, you want to do audits, and put such conditions on us that we can never deliver how we want to deliver.”

 I know that if we want to work with our people, sometimes we do have to use the Pakeha system to get there, because our people will not come to us voluntarily. They have to be ordered to work with us before they will come to us.  When we set conditions at Parole Board they’ll do it because they are ordered to do it . They don’t do it because they have aroha for you, the whanau or anyone else, but, they are in their state of development where they have been following orders and instructions for 10 – 12 years and they don’t expect anything else.

 If you are looking for loyalty from our people forget that one too, because my personal experience has taught me that too. I must share this little anecdote with you

 My son was very upset because someone had said unkind things about him and I said to him 

 Get real I’ve had unkind things said about me from Invercargill to Nga Puhi.

No use taking any notice about it because that is the way of our people.”

 We never or very rarely praise ourselves.  We always like to pull each other down.  I’ve overcome that one a long time ago.  I don’t give a bugger anymore, so if I want to do things I’m just going to do it whether I’ve got your blessing or not.

 I can’t buy into all this blessings and tautoko and the mandate and te mea, te mea, te mea, because while we’re talking about the blessing and the mandate etc., our people are going down the tubes and so just get on with it. Just do it eh?

 Let’s just talk about experiences within the jail. I suddenly realised that perhaps in a little way I had made a difference to some people.  I was in Rotorua last Christmas and a whanau came to see me and asked 

“Do you remember so & so?”  and I said “No. I don’t,”  “Yes you do ” was the response. I said, “I’m sorry what’s the name again?”  They told me, then I said “Sorry I don’t know that person”  “Yes, he’s a mobster, don’t you remember?” and I said,  “Oh right, I remembered him well”. 

He sends you a message. He has been released now, he’s doing okay and that money you put in his account even though you didn’t even know him, it just blew him away. He bought a pair of running shoes, green and white Nike. He said to tell you that every time he puts these green and white Nikes on he thinks about you because he may have killed one of your whanau yet you just gave him the hand of kindness. 

Well I have to say that if people haven’t ever had kindness done to them and you do it, (you have to do it), it can make a change, but you cannot make huge changes, it is just not the way it goes. I want to share other experiences with you when I decided to be a good Samaritan and have lifers come to our marae where we would work with them and help them get a new life.  Number one comes out and I said    

“Okay, you’ll start here, and you’ll do this and I’m going to save a $100 a week from your money and you’ll just have to learn to live on what’s left. By Christmas time your going to have quite a bit of money”.

 This particular inmate was a sexual offender he had raped twice and killed, but he was still a likeable so & so.  So away we went on our great experiment, two months down the track and I get a phone call at my office  

“Oi you gotta come down, you gotta come down. You know So & So made a line with one of the woman here”

 I thought Oh God our first attempt and now we’re gonna be in trouble. I drove down there. Nothing had happened to the girl, but yes he’d had a moment of weakness – so I sat down with him and I said 


“We’ve got to fix up this sexual side of you now. I’ll arrange for them to take you into town and you can go and have a good time with the prostitutes, pay for it, come back and that’s taken care of. Then we’ll get on with the rehabilitation. That’s all I can offer you”. I said “ now get it out of your system and it’ll be all right.”

 Well he didn’t listen to me you see, he didn’t do that, but anyway we saved his money. He came to me later on and he said   

“June I’m with my whanau, they’re still boozing. Nothing has changed with them in 12 years. Can I come to you?.”


So I said  “yeah okay, okay”, and he came. When he came, he brought his two sons. His sons were in their 20s. We got them all jobs, and everything was going nicely. He wanted to buy a car, so he bought this flash car, I think it must have cost him about three and a half thousand dollars. It was a flash car. I said to him,   

“Don’t take that car to your whanau, don’t show it off. Just be low key cause, they may not like it”

 Did he listen to me?  No. He drove around to show the whanau his car right away. Next minute I was sitting on the Parole Board and I get a message that he was in jail. His whanau had shopped him for sexually assaulting his eleven year old niece. I was angry with him but I knew that his whanau wanted him inside. They knew that it’s easy to get a conviction when you have a whole line of convictions behind your name. If you’ve got more than five or six convictions for sure, even if you are innocent you’re going to go down, and he went down.  To this day I believe that he whahwa’d her but he did not rape her but she got $10,000 from ACC, as many do when they shop people in.

 I know this, even at the risk of being slaughtered and strung up. These are my own personal feelings, believe me.  I want to talk about this sexual abuse when the ACC was paying out $10,000. Maoris were being shopped in left right and centre and the victims were getting the money and while I am quite sure some of them were genuine, I am just as sure that some others were not.  But now that ACC is not paying, okay, you don’t see so many of us going up these days you have to wonder what’s it all about. Maybe you know we need to have a good look at ourselves.

 When I came here today and I saw all these Maoris here I was thinking “Gee why can’t we just get together. We don’t need a conference for us to get together do we? We need to work out a strategic plan for the next 20 years on how we can do something collectively about what is happening to us as a people.  I have always asked for that but no one ever seems to be interested in sort of coming to the party because it’s in the “too hard basket”. That is what I’ve discovered.

 The inmates got very angry with me because I said that if I was the law of the land they would never get to see their kids, so I went up to the jail and they challenged me about their kids. I said you can all go to hell. If you wanna see your kids then don’t rape and murder but if I was the law of this land you would never see your kids.

 Why should Maori kids grow up knowing what a jail is? Most kids don’t know what a jail is.

Sometimes you have the mother at the wire fence holding the kid up and saying “ There’s daddy, there’s daddy” and he’s waving at them and that’s supposed to be a very natural thing for us Maori people.

 So the next issue which I’ve been trying to tackle and I’ve been stone-walled over, and you have to look at it, is the bigger picture. Perhaps those people in the mainstream want to keep us where we are. If we were to do things for ourselves they would all be out of work, and we wouldn’t have those Pakeha telling us what to do. We’d be telling ourselves what to do

 There has to be more accountability and responsibility from the families of these offenders. We should have them up on the marae to challenge them and ask them “Why is this? Why are your kids doing this? Why did your kid kill this one and that one?”  But we don’t do that.

 So you know those are the frustrations that I feel, and I think that when I look at you all here today well I’m thinking, okay please put some energy into those of us who are outside. Will you please put some energy into those young people who I am talking about who think Jake Heke is the best thing since cream cheese. Please put some energy into those kids who think that their mothers need a hiding, because that’s where it is at.

 Let me tell you about the life of an inmate in the jail, a Maori inmate.  Once he goes in there he is no longer a Maori, he is just an IT.  He is told when to get up, he is told when to go to bed, he is told when to go to the toilet, he is told when to eat. He is a nothing. He might get a bit of exercise, but he is totally at the mercy of the prison staff.  What you see in the movies that’s how it is here. They might get day parole, it depends on a release date, as it becomes close, imminent, many experience this sickness they call “gate fever” where they don’t want to go out cause they have been inside too long.  There aren’t enough places outside to take our people.

 Now I’ve been saying to the Parole Board I want the iwi where he comes from to be contacted, Waikato, Ngati Awa, Ngaitahu, they should be notified and given the responsibility for providing rehabilitation for that person, because the tribes are saying “we can look after our own” and I’m saying “beauty, lets do it, lets do it.”  When it comes to looking after our own it would be really good if more people were saying that. When we’re talking about children and young persons funding, and social welfare funding we’re talking about billions of dollars here.

 What we should be doing is lobbying them and saying that “the Maori side of the budget we want to control it.” Whoever in the tribes are the ones that want to do the leading and directing, then the money should go back there and the tribes should be given the opportunity to do all the things that have caused their people to be huge negative statistics in this country.

 What are we talking about? Well I would say $10 million per tribe for starters would be a kick off, it’s not enough, but at least it would give everybody an opportunity to do things for themselves. We need a real opportunity.  Because the programmes you all do I’ll guarantee they are under-resourced, especially if you are contracting to Corrections, they are not known to be generous.  They will give you ten thousand dollars per programme and expect you to do miracles in three to six months.

 How can we succeed when we are Maori? They are Pakeha, they had Pakeha conditions and they have no respect for ours. We have to ensure the same value is put on our beliefs as they put on their own.  Sometimes I think they just humour us, they tell me that the big thing in corrections programmes now is “integrated management” whatever that means. Perhaps it is linking up all the information so they got a better picture of us as a Maori people?.

 We should know these things. We are the ones in the jail. You know some people call some of us who sit on boards that “oh we are a sell out” – I won’t have that said about me, because my heart is where its at, but I can’t help telling you the truth.  Whanau. Not many whanau come to the jail. They don’t come to see their people, they don’t send money.  Some prisoners stay there for between five and ten years and nobody comes to see them, that’s happening there.

 I hear this other story, we’re kei te pai, we’re this, we’re that, we’re everything, and that is fine too. I’m not mocking those who have actually been a success in what they do. Maybe there are a lot of small successes but they’re important successes. I wanted to talk about all this, but maybe I will just touch on it. There was a time on the Parole Board where I led with the heart, but now I notice that everything is getting structured. It’s called structured decision-making, where they have introduced these instruments of measuring  “they say to me, Oh June, you don’t support that person do you? He is a psychopath” – well to them, everyone is a psychopath.

 Now what does that mean to us because in all my time there I have never failed to connect with an inmate, it doesn’t matter where he comes from, I can connect just through talking and generosity. There are other people here who can speak also about it, who can verify what I’m saying to you.  But what did that tell me. It told me that the inmates do want you, they do want you to go and see them even if it’s only once every three months, but we don’t go.  We’re always too busy doing other things.

 I want to conclude here. This is a great forum to let each other know where we’re at and where we want to be and where we want to go.  We must use every and all possible opportunities to make a difference

Kia ora