19 Nov 2015

Indigenous health workers visit prisoners

9:01 pm on 19 November 2015

Indigenous health workers from around the world have visited the special treatment and dependency treatment unit at Waikeria Prison.

Outside the Karakia unit at Waikeria prison.

Outside the Karaka Special Treatment Unit at Waikeria Prison. Photo: Shannon Haunui-Thompson

The 24-week programme at the prison near Te Awamutu aims to reduce the risk of re-offending by treating alcohol and drug addiction.

The prisoners in Karaka Special Treatment Unit welcomed their international guests with a traditional pōwhiri including a wero (challenge).

The delegates, who were in New Zealand for indigenous health conference Healing Our Spirit Worldwide, visited the prison unit hoping to learn about the programme.

Indigenous health workers from around the world given a pōwhiri at Waikeria prison.

The international guests were welcomed with a pōwhiri. Photo: Shannon Haunui-Thompson

Statistics from the Department of Corrections show more than 50 percent of crime in New Zealand is committed by people under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Justin Lee, from CareNZ, said the programme was based on prisoners with the same goals living and working together.

"The main intervention is therapeutic community, so that's a highly structured community environment - it's based on the foundation of a community of people with the same shared goals living and working together, and fits in well with tikanga Māori values," he said.

Just over half the unit's participants are Māori. One Māori prisoner, who is part of the unit, said his violence was fuelled by alcohol and being part of the programme had made him a better man.

Since 2010, 245 prisoners have completed the programme - giving it an 85 percent completion rate.

Marama Parore

Marama Parore Photo: SUPPLIED

Te Rau Matatini chief executive Marama Parore, whose organisation hosted the conference, said she believed prisoners discovering their Māori identity was important to healing.

"It make me sad that they are here but it makes me feel good they are being healed, and a fundamental part of that healing is learning about who they are as Māori," she said.

Harley Eagle, a cultural safety facilitator from Island Health on Vancouver Island in Canada, said the programme was a great example of how a person's culture could help their healing.

He said there were similar programmes in Canada but not as strong as those offered in the Karaka Unit, which he believed would be beneficial to his people.

"Even though we're a smaller percent of the overall population, our percentage in prisons is much higher. [Aboriginal Canadians make up] 80 percent of the prison population and we may only be 10 percent of the overall population, especially in the far north of Canada," Mr Eagle said.

"So I can see how a programme like this will be beneficial to indigenous inmates."