A brief history of Te Tirohanga units

Neil Campbell
General Manager Cultural Capability, Department of Corrections

Author biography:
Neil Campbell is of Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-ā-Apanui descent and has held a number of positions within the Department of Corrections over the last 20 years. Until recently, Neil headed up the Māori Services Team that looks for innovations, partnerships and ways to make continuous improvements to achieve success with Māori offenders. He’s now moved to a new role focused on organisational capability to work effectively with different cultures, including Māori.

In December 2017, Corrections recognised the 20-year anniversary of the first of its Te Tirohanga units, formerly known as Māori Focus Units.

The Department now has five such whare (houses/residences) around the North Island. The oldest is Te Whare Tirohanga Māori at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison.

The early years

Back in the 1990s, the concept of a “Māori Focus Unit” where things were done according to kaupapa Māori philosophy was pioneering. The idea came out of the minds of such Māori leaders as Sir Pita Sharples, Sir Norman Perry, and Kim Workman.

Every bold idea needs courage to drive it and that came by the way of Department leaders such as former Chief Executive Mark Byers, former General Manager of Prisons Phil McCarthy, former Hawkes Bay Regional Prison Manager Peter Grant and Corrections Kaumatua Des Ripi, the Department’s most influential Māori leader of the day.

As with most pioneering expeditions, the track to be cut was a tough one. It required a change in attitude, behaviour and organisational culture that was somewhat before its time.

Early ventures into this territory started with the work of such people as Ana Tia, a volunteer who had tutored Māori in prison since the early 1970s.

Māori had understood from the outset that separation from one’s cultural identity and the loss of associated beliefs, values and practices ultimately led to a compromised identity state. This in turn led to a very fluid sense of belonging. People felt “out of” rather than “in” the culture and developed confused and distorted cultural views.

To address those very issues, a dedicated space was established that would focus on residents’ cultural identity as Māori men and what that meant.

The first steps were understandably tentative and continued what Ana Tia had begun.

Teaching men waiata, haka and the traditions of mihimihi and pepeha were foundation stones of those early environments. There was a high level of community and whānau involvement and inclusion, a distinctly kaupapa Māori operating philosophy and a structured day.

In 1997, the introduction of the Mahi Tahi programme saw the facilitation of a structured programme. This programme was the first of its kind and gave an in-depth look at the participants’ Māori identity and history. Staff members also did sessions to deepen their understanding of Te Ao Māori. Mahi Tahi was well received by prisoners and staff and other programmes soon followed.

Mita Mohi’s Mau Rakau programme was controversial in that it exposed the men to a Māori martial arts form. As with all martial arts, the focus was not on how to harm others but on the philosophy of balance of the mind, spirit and the body. It was a completely new way for men to look at their behaviour, attitude and thinking towards others and what it truly meant to be a warrior in the modern world.

As time passed it became obvious that the programmes we had were not going far enough to address the offending behaviour of the men. With this in mind, in 1999 Corrections introduced a programme to Māori service providers who took on the role of delivering it. This was a cognitive behavioural therapy programme that would come to be known as the Māori Therapeutic Programme and later, Mauri Tū Pae (MTP).

In 2003 the Ministry of Social Development’s Social Report stated “Strong cultural identity is important for people’s sense of self and how they relate to others. Strong cultural identity contributes to people’s overall well-being.”

And so began a period of opening more units, and refining the practices within the units.  Over this period, four more units opened around the North Island; at Rimutaka Prison, Waikeria Prison, Whanganui Prison, and the then Tongariro/Rangipo Prison.

It would become apparent through feedback from participants, staff and service providers that more was still needed to develop these environments into effective therapeutic communities. However, it had been the right place to start.

Lifting achievement levels to an elite standard

In 2013, Corrections’ Creating Lasting Change Year 3 document said “A new therapeutic model in our Māori Focus Units will be implemented nationwide to lift the achievement level of these units to an elite standard.”

On the back of this statement the Department’s Māori Services Team commenced work to change the way in which the units would operate. Our Te Tirohanga National Programme was designed to give greater consistency to the programme content within the units that were now referred to as whare.

The new programme introduced a phased model that provided a distinctive pathway and gave continuity to what was being learnt within each whare. It provided an opportunity for the tāne (men) to earn unit standards and qualifications as part of their learning experience. The phased approach also meant that tāne could enter the environments in cohorts of 10 that, for the most part, would complete the pathway together.

The first phase was foundational and included an induction process that would establish a whānau assessment and action plan, an offender plan, and preliminary programmes that addressed literacy and numeracy. This phase also included an introduction to tikanga and te reo Māori to assist the tāne as they progressed to phase two of the programme.

Phase two placed men on a medium intensity rehabilitation programme, Mauri Tū Pae. This programme addresses the offending behaviour of the tāne using distinctly Māori modalities, and increases whānau involvement and inclusion.

Phase three was designed to address drug and alcohol addictions at a tailor-made drug treatment programme in Whanganui.

Phases four through six concentrated on pre-release requirements and offered the opportunity for release to work initiatives, intensive reintegration planning and more whānau and community connectivity in preparation for pre-release centres. These include external self-care units and the two Whare Oranga Ake, New Zealand’s unique open prison model that prepares and supports prisoners at the end of their sentence to move back into the community – currently at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison and Spring Hill Corrections Facility.

The six-phase approach meant tāne would remain within this therapeutic community for a period of 18 months.

A process evaluation of the Te Tirohanga National programme was completed in April 2015. It found that a strong and positive culture existed in all whare, with participants especially enthusiastic about the initial phases of the programme. Staff were supportive of the participants and appeared generally to be acting as positive role models, though there was some lack of clarity around staff roles. The anticipated involvement of whānau within the environments and in the programme in general was not occurring, partly because they were not being invited to participate in activities, and also because of restrictions on visitors such as those arising from the child protection policy and other operational considerations.

Following the evaluation, the programme was redesigned to a three-phase programme over nine months. The evaluation showed that the reintegrative phases would be more effective if the tāne had progressed to environments like the external self-care units or dedicated external reintegration spaces such as Whare Oranga Ake, so the reintegrative phases were moved outside the wire. Work was also done to ensure the operating philosophy of Te Tirohanga was more effectively embedded with both the programme participants and staff.

The future of Te Tirohanga

Many people over the last 20 years have questioned the effectiveness of kaupapa Māori-based environments inside our facilities. There have been a variety of views expressed from within Corrections and Māori communities alike. A common issue that continues to be discussed centres on how operational requirements and pressures impact the operating philosophy and kaupapa values of those environments.

At least one iwi is exploring the possibility of transitioning Te Tirohanga principles and programmes outside the wire so that these therapeutic communities and their associated kaupapa Māori operating principles can be managed by iwi themselves. This idea requires careful consideration of security issues, but it certainly provides a more connected pathway to reintegration initiatives such as Whare Oranga Ake. It will also mean greater and easier access for whānau to ensure increased involvement and inclusion within the rehabilitation space. There is merit in this thinking, which allows some of the most crucial features of the original design to be implemented effectively.

When looking at other therapeutic communities, the whānau-centric approach is what makes Te Tirohanga innovative. Wherever the programme is based, the inclusion of whānau, hapū, and iwi is critical to its success.

As with many kaupapa designed by Māori, the future invariably lies within the past. The future of Te Tirohanga may be yet another example of that thinking.