Māori Focus Units and Māori Therapeutic

Executive summary

As part of the annual research and evaluation work programme, an evaluation of the Māori Focus Units (MFUs) and the Māori Therapeutic Programmes (MTPs) was recently completed. The main purpose of the evaluation was to measure the extent of positive learning and change amongst participants in MFUs and MTPs. A range of methods was used, including structured interviews of participants, psychometric measures, and reconviction analysis.  Also examined were participant and staff views about the nature and quality of the programme experience, analyses of occupancy rates, and assessment of these units’ adherence to prescribed MFU operating requirements.

Evidence was found that all five MFUs are operating in conformity to the prescribed requirements for the programme. This included offering the full range of tikanga-based courses and activities, regular involvement of local iwi groups, and functioning prisoner-staff forums for decision-making.  Importantly, interviews with prisoners participating in the MFUs yielded a large amount of information supporting the conclusion that a positive and pro-social environment is achieved in these units, which is conducive of learning and change.

With respect to learning and change, the study generated extensive evidence of MFUs’ participants acquiring new knowledge in relation to Tikanga Māori. This suggests that strengthened cultural knowledge, and enhanced cultural identity, is reliably being achieved amongst participants. Secondly, MTP participants displayed positive change in terms of attitudes and beliefs related to criminal lifestyles.  Finally, relatively small but positive changes were found in terms of reduced reconvictions and re-imprisonments for both MFU and MTPs.

Overall, interviews with participants and staff revealed a picture of a cohesive and cooperative unit environment which prisoners found both engaging and rewarding.  However, the modest extent of impacts observed across all measures suggests that MFUs are yet to operate to their full potential. The evaluation documented once again the operational issue of recruitment and retention of suitable prisoners. Further work is recommended to resolve this issue, as a high turnover of prisoners in these units inevitably reduces the extent to which the units are able to develop and maintain an atmosphere supportive of change.  The manner in which unit staff respond to gang membership is also raised as being worthy of further examination.