The Department of Corrections needs to think about tangi as being a healing process rather than a security exercise, a prison reform advocate says.
Figures released under the Official Information Act show more than a quarter of prisoners who applied for leave for a tangi or funeral in the past five years were declined.
Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, said the process to apply for leave became much more difficult after a prisoner escaped at a tangi about 20 years ago.
There were 958 approvals for release for tangi or funerals, compared with 293 people denied approval in the past five financial years.
Mr Workman said it was likely many more wanted to apply for leave but found the application process too daunting and did not bother.
He said the Department of Corrections mindset on releasing inmates needed to change from seeing it as a security risk to viewing it as an opportunity for the prisoner to reconcile with their whanau at a significant time.
He said tangihanga especially can be a healing process and help with reintegration of the mauhere.
The department said public safety was its foremost consideration when approving an application. It said it made every effort to help prisoners cope with bereavement.