Khylee Quince – Change-maker

Posted: July 20, 2021Categories: , ,

Khylee Quince – Change-maker

Mixing humour with straight-talking – a potent and characteristic mix – Khylee Quince, the first Māori Dean of Law, offered a blueprint for change-makers in her kōrero with Stacey Morrison last month.

The issues are clear: One in every 25 wāhine Māori have been to prison by age 35, compared to one in every 166 Pākehā women. For tāne Māori, the imprisonment rate is one in five. The upshot, says Khylee, is that prison is a sort of unknown “bogey place” for the Pākehā middle class, but for Māori, “we all know about prison, we all know people in there, that have been in there, we’ve all visited, … it’s just part of our reality.”

Keeping people out of prison “is really nothing to do with prison at all,” says Khylee. “Prisons, and racist and discriminatory criminal justice systems, are just a reflection of racist and discriminatory [and unequal] societies… The big prison – that my friend Tracey McIntosh talks about – is the lives of confinement that people live in the real community. Restricted lives which are like virtual prisons in terms of the choices and opportunities that people have to make.”

Khylee points out incarcerated women “almost always have very long victimisation histories.” And wāhine Māori suffer from ongoing colonisation and economic pressures: sole māmās caring for their children have particularly high rates of poverty. Khylee says prison is “often the safest, warmest driest place” for people. “I had a guy last week tell me it was the first time he had a bed to himself and had been fed three times a day.” Appallingly, one of the pathways to prison for mothers is “failure to protect liability”: someone else has harmed a child, and “the Crown and the Police have not been able to nail the actual wrong-doer so they charge the mother for ‘failure to protect’,” says Khylee. The law is a relatively recent “net-widener” and “one of the major reasons why wāhine Māori are in prison”.

So Khylee’s first answer to keeping people out of prison is: “fix the society” with adequate incomes and sharing of resources and power. The second answer: “judges just need to make different decisions, and not send offenders to prison, it’s as simple as that.” Giving hope, in the last three years Khylee says there’s been a reduction in incarceration of 15% which is “massive”.

Also giving hope: both te Tiriti of Waitangi and tikanga Māori have just been announced as compulsory subjects for law students across the country, thanks to the advocacy of Khylee and others. The response from “students and young people of all colours and from all backgrounds” has been really positive: “It’s a generational thing. To be suspicious of things Māori is so passé”.

Khylee is also chair of the NZ Drug Foundation and serves on the parole board. Her life is not all about change though: she decided way back in her early teenage years she wanted to be a lawyer (as she’s also described elsewhere), and she’s been with her partner since she was 14. For Khylee, that long-term relationship has given her “stability and tau – being settled at home.” Which leaves her with all the more change-making energy to lavish on our justice system, for the good of us all.

Lessons for change-makers

  1. Going into an important hui?
    Have a pre-hui hui to talk to your allies about strategy.


  1. Dealing with heavy issues?
    Khylee pioneered writing Section 27 reports, which inform sentencing judges about offenders’ histories and contexts. The first few times prisoners revealed their histories of abuse to Khylee, afterwards she would cry in her car in the prison carpark. Now she uses karakia and goes for a swim or a walk in nature “I do the whakanoa thing.”


  1. Wondering how to be a good non-Māori ally?
    Be present, keep talking to your friends and the people you come across. Racism isn’t our problem to solve [as Māori, and] to be honest, people get sick of hearing us. …Different voices are really important…. Being a good ally means taking some of the burden of responding to questions [such as] ‘why is this important?’… Use your voice.”


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