Now before you all jump in and pour scorn upon Winston for what, on the surface, might seem to be a suggestion that there's an axiomatic correlation between being Polynesian and a criminal mindset ... consider this.
What if Winston had said he, himself, had a better understanding of some prisoners' mindsets by virtue of being Maori.
It's pretty much exactly the same claim. It's just that due to self-reference it does a bit of a better job conveying empathy rather than suggesting criminality.
And considering that one of the supremely important issues we grapple with in our Corrections system (and, for that matter, with the police) is the genuine and undeniable realities of structural racism ... I definitely feel that part of the response to this issue is empowering the perspectives of people from the demographics in question.
To put it in context: Sam Lotu-Iiga is a Minister of the Crown. He's got reasonably good name and facial recognition.
And yet, if we were to wind the clock back ten or twenty years while simultaneously downgrading his warderobe ... Sam could well have found himself in a situation wherein an employee of the state - or, heck, even a member of the general public - could have made unwarranted and unfounded assumptions about him and how he should be treated, based purely on his ethnicity.
Something rather unlikely to have happened to his predecessor in the role, Anne Tolley.
Or, phrased more simply: white people often have problems grasping the issues around structural racism. Which, when you're dealing with pretty much the archetypal exhibit-A of same within our society ... is probably not a huge plus.
Now, to go even further ... we already recognize that a Maori perspective can be useful if not vital in the Corrections system, as represented by the Mauri Tu Pae rehabilitation program, for instance. This integration of tikanga Maori kaupapa has a proven track-record of reducing offending, and serves to demonstrate how useful incorporating such an ethnic consideration can be. Something similar exists for a more narrow range of Pasifika offenders with the Saili Matagi scheme, as well.
Recently, it was announced that National would be adding an extra hundred beds to Mt Eden - continuing to fill to well over capacity an already hugely understaffed and outright dangerous prison. In addition to that, even after the Government takeover of Mt Eden, there has reportedly been no serious shakeup and improvement in staff-to-prisoner ratios - or an end to SERCO's fundamentally deficient management practices.
In other words, nothing's really changed except the name on the door - and the number of prisoners being negligently managed.
And that's not good enough.
I respect Winston for being up-front and principled enough to defend a man thrown in the utter deep-end of a mess not of his own making ... but I also feel most strongly that whomever's responsible - and that means both Tolley AND Lotu-Iiga - needs to be justifiably held to account.