One of the New Zealand government’s main priorities is to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders and their whānau. This is inclusive of the approximately one in four (24%) of New Zealand’s population who identify as disabled. Māori are disproportionately represented in this group compared to the general population.

Tāngata whaikaha Māori/disabled people have reported experiencing discrimination and barriers that have impacted their lives, including difficulty accessing a range of health, disability, and social services.

In an Ara Poutama Aotearoa context, people generally come into prison, bearing pre-existing disabilities, but some people may also develop a disability while in prison. In prison high-quality health and disability support services are critical in addressing inequitable health and wellbeing outcomes and in ensuring continuity of care when reintegrating back into the community.

In June 2022, the Washington Short Set of Questions on Disability (WGSSQ) was added to the Updated Health Assessment (UHA). Using the data from the WGSSQ is a positive step for Ara Poutama Aotearoa because it is the first time a valid measurement of the number and functionality of tāngata whaikaha Māori/disabled people coming into prison has been possible.

Initial data from the WGSSQ suggests that while the number of people in prison with functional impairments reflects a slightly smaller number (17.3%) that of the general population, a higher proportion of Māori in prison identify as disabled (50.9%).

While both Māori and non-Māori are impacted by disability, there are wide disparities between their experiences of disability.

Māori are also disproportionately represented in the Corrections system and addressing the over-representation of Māori is a key part of our organisational strategy Hōkai Rangi: Ara Poutama Aotearoa Strategy 2019-2024.

Reflecting our commitment to “Nothing about us, without us”, the voice of tāngata whaikaha Māori/disabled people who have lived experience with the Corrections system and their whānau have been integral in the Disability Action Plan development.

This reflects a collaborative approach that emphasises the importance of bringing key stakeholders and partners (particularly tāngata whaikaha Māori/disabled people and their whānau) into a co-development process of shared responses, outcomes, and solutions. This included consulting with:

  • tāngata whaikaha Māori/disabled people currently in prison,
  • tāngata whaikaha Māori/disabled people who have recently been in prison and their whānau,
  • people from across Ara Poutama Aotearoa,
  • people from across the government, and
  • people from the broader disability sector.

Ara Poutama Aotearoa also undertook a series of internal workshops across government agencies, non-governmental organisations, and community sectors to support the development of this plan.

Our specific responsibility in this system requires us to focus on doing our best with those who come into our care and management, in order to help reduce the chances of them returning to the justice system.

— Hōkai Rangi purpose and context p.4