Topics: Crime, Prison

Department of Corrections ban prisoners from possessing pounamu pendants

By Maiki Sherman

The Māori Party has called for a meeting with the Corrections Minister following a decision to ban prisoners from possessing pounamu and manaia pendants.

The Department of Corrections says the pendants are a risk in prisons, adding that they are of great prestige and aren't appropriate to be held there.

Shane White is a former inmate who has since spent years rehabilitating those still in prison.

He's upset at a decision by Corrections to ban pounamu and manaia pendants.

White says, “When a Māori goes into prison, he has more than likely lost his way due to pākehā 'taonga' such as money and drugs.  So when he gets there, he soon realises what he's been missing and that's his Māori culture.”

Corrections says the pendants are a risk and can be used to illegally barter inside prison, and could also create a possible situation where prisoners are victims of stand-overs.

“I've never seen anyone stood over for 'taonga', I have for drugs, cigarettes and chocolate, but a pendant has a value all of its own,” explains White.

“Where's the evidence to show that a person was stood over for his pendant?  The people the Māori Party have spoken to say it's not a big issue,” says Marama Fox.

The Māori Party want to see the evidence that supports that decision.  They have also contacted the office of the responsible Minister, Sam Lotu-Iiga.

Fox says, “Perhaps he doesn't really know what it means to Māori but in saying that, we know it was the Māori Department that made the decision.”

The Dept of Corrections says, “Pounamu is considered to represent freedom and traditionally given to people of high standing in the iwi.  As such, prison is not an appropriate place for these items to be held.”

Elder Bob Clarke often sits on the speaking bench at welcome ceremonies for the Auckland Regional Women's Prison.  He disagrees with that notion.

“In the eyes of Māori, we are all the same. These pendants aren't just for those of high standing,” says Clarke.

For current prisoners, they will continue to be able to possess their pendants.  However, from Monday, all new prisoners will be subject to the ban.