Moana Jackson: Why Did Maori Never Have Prisons?
At present, New Zealand has the second highest rate of mass incarceration in the world (after the US) – with the majority of inmates identifying as Maori. In the following presentation, Maori constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson makes the case for abolishing prisons. He cites the example of Norway, Finland and other Scandinavian countries, which decided decades ago that prisons were unsustainable and ineffective in reducing crime. In Norway, prisons are being replaced by open “habilitation” centers. In Finland, the number of prisons has been reduced from 100 to 20. The latter have mainly been replaced by mental health treatment centers.
Jackson’s main argument is that prisons are a direct result of colonization – that Maori had no prisons before European settlers arrived.* Prior to colonization, the primary Maori concern when people infringed on each other was the disruption in the net of social relationships. Different tribes set aside special facilities where victims and offenders could stay with their families to repair fractured relationships. In modern terminology, the process is referred to as “restorative justice.”** In New Zealand, we have no juvenile lock-up facilities. Instead offenders and their families meet with victims to make reparations.
Jackson also challenges the racist depiction of Maori as violent, naturally aggressive warriors. This stems from a European need to depict indigenous peoples as racially inferior to justify dispossessing. Stripping Maori of their true identity has traumatized generations of young Maori men by providing them with a distorted image of who they really are. Peeling away this lie will be essential to abolishing prisons in New Zealand.
I was intrigued to learned that both Norway and Finland consulted with indigenous Sami (who also had no prisons prior to colonization) in devising alternatives to prison.
*Europeans also had no need for prisons prior to the Enclosure Acts that drove our ancestors off the commons. Deprived of access to land, they had no means of supporting themselves and the majority ended up in prisons and workhouses or “transported” by the courts to the US or Australia. See https://stuartjeannebramhall.com/2015/08/04/forgotten-history-the-theft-of-the-commons/
**South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is another famous example of restorative justice.