A response to Jim Rose on Maori prison population

by Don Franks

“Half the Māori prison population are gang members … whom no-one wants to see given a break.” 

Lines from Jim Rose’s article: “Extra prisoners are nearly all gang members – that’s hardly a crisis”, in Wellington’s May 29th Dominion PostScreen Shot 2018-05-29 at 7.09.47 PM

Jim Rose concludes:

“Gang members are not Māori single mums struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table who were driven to a bit of shoplifting by the legacy of 175 years of colonisation.

“They are hardened criminals pursuing a life of crime outside and inside prison. They have no excuses.”

In other words, a proportion of Maori are inherently evil, irredeemable and deserving of absolutely nothing. 

In a civilised country, how can a mainstream newspaper print Rose’s dehumanising racist agitation? Why do readers tolerate it?

Because we’re not really that civilised.

Like the gangs themselves, the Jim Rose article is born out of a violent social system. 

The largest gangs take value created by others. These gangs collectively write and enforce their own laws to legitimise their dominance.  They are hardened capitalists who mostly give no thought to the welfare, security, comfort or happiness of those who toil to make them rich. 

Corporate gangs differ from street gangs in a few ways. The corporates are larger, of course, and wealthier, with more to lose. They are able to put a self-serving spin on their rackets, so that, for example, their alcohol racket has a nicer image than the gangs’ smaller drug rackets. Corporate gangs help retain their better image by not doing their own dirty work. If you mess with a corporate gang, you take on their police or, occasionally, their army. 

In the middle class suburb of Eastbourne where I grew up, we didn’t feel a need to form gangs. We were safe and dry. Warm, secure, well fed. Educated, entertained, with interesting diversions in our spare time, regular holidays and prospects to look forward to. Our parents had relatively well-paid secure jobs. All in all, very poor sort of soil to grow decent gangs in. 

To grow gangs it helps to decimate industries and make widespread unemployment, the way the 4th Labour government did. Post offices, forestry works, railways, all shedding workers wholesale. A huge percentage of Maori workers, a second colonisation. The years pass. Generational unemployment sets in, with all its ugly despondent by-products. What are the dispossessed supposed to do? People with few resources get by any way they can. 

Vast social changes are needed in this country. It should be a serious crime to pay less than a living wage, a crime to charge exorbitant rents. There should be a maximum wage. Why should one individual be able to amass more than they can ever spend while others shiver in want? 

But where to start with the present prison population in the right here and now? 

Recognise that however they might look to you, they are fellow human beings. They have excuses. Want to see them given a break.