Friday, November 15, 2013

In New Zealand, Warriors Behind Bars


 Once Were Warriors trailer.

The US has the highest rate of prisoners per 100,000 people in the world . Housing these prisoners costs on average $25,000 per person a year.  However, America is not alone when it comes to high rates of incarceration. New Zealand too has seen an increase in people behind bars since the 1980s. Despite low crime rates, in twenty years the number of prisoners has doubled, in part due to 'tough on crime' laws - a situation similar to that in America. Also as in America, a minority is disproportionately affected. While in the US African Americans make up 13.6 per cent of the population, black males account for 40.2 per cent of prison inmates. By comparison, in New Zealand,  indigenous Maoris make up 15 per cent of the population but account for 50 per cent of prisoners, costing the government $94,000 a year each. High rates of child poverty, low rates of education, drug addiction, broken family ties, gang membership, and what seems to be the normalization of prison, all play a part. These social and economic issues mirror those found among incarcerated African Americans in the US.

In Al Jazeera's "Locked Up Warriors" you can read more about New Zealand's high rates of jailed Maoris. The article cites the fact that these disturbing incarceration rates occur at the same time that New Zealand is listed as the third most peaceful country in the world by the the Global Peace Index (Iceland is number one). In contrast, the US is rated a disturbing 99 out of the 162 among nations surveyed. (Could this be linked to the doubling of gun violence since 1950 in films targeting the 13 and under audience?)

Above is the trailer of Once Were Warriors, a film written by Alan Duff who adapted the screen version form his novel of the same name.  Released in 1994, the film, while fiction, gives a powerful view of how identity loss and poverty lead to violence in one Maori family.

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