Unlocking Maori identity: Keeping New Zealand’s indigenous people out of jail

For the most part Te Ao Mārama looks just like the other low to medium security units at Waikeria prison. Sixty cells surround a central yard on three sides. On the fourth is a dining hall, behind that the meeting areas and offices. The perimeter fence is lined with coils of barbed wire, over which fantails dart back and forth, pecking at the grass.

Here, however, pou whenua (traditional posts) which have been carved by inmates, rise from the ground along with the ageing basketball hoop. Visitors pass through not just the sliding grey security fence, but also the ornate gateway, or waharoa. For the prisoners, the experience is untypical too, with just about every part of the rehabilitative program underpinned by Māori principles, or tikanga Māori.