This Plan To Abolish Prisons Challenges Colonial Norms

road with mountains in the background
Zain Murdock
October 16, 2023

In September 2023, Te Pāti Māori, New Zealand’s Indigenous rights political party, announced a revolutionary plan to abolish all prisons by 2040. 

They also intend to reform drug laws, restore incarcerated populations' voting rights, implement community mental health services, and reallocate state funds from prisons, police, and courts.

Their goal is a tikanga, or traditional Māori-based justice system. 

Māori figure Moana Jackson once described the implementation of Western prisons as a way to classify marginalized communities as “savages,” “aggressive,” or naturally inclined to do the wrong thing.

Māori scholarship like Jackson’s has long sparked discussions about the similarities between Māori and Black American communities. Both have faced what scholar Robert Staples called “internal colonialism,” living in a country controlled by those who colonized you. 

The result has been systemic criminalization, forceful assimilation to Eurocentric values, high poverty, unemployment, and incarceration rates.

Another similarity: resistance. Te Pāti Māori’s call for prison abolition and self-governance applies to colonized communities worldwide. 

For example, the U.S.'s current decarceration rate means we're 75 years from reaching 1972’s prison population of around 200,000.

No matter the results of Te Pāti Māori’s plan, it has delegitimized the social norm that demands we must believe in prisons. It redefined what can be viewed as possible. And as we seek to build a liberating future, calls like these are an exciting step forward.

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