Waikeria Prison uprising: Ngāti Maniapoto to send kaumātua in bid to end protest

By Mackenzie Smith of RNZ

Ngāti Maniapoto is arranging for kaumātua to visit Waikeria Prison today in a bid to end the protests there.

Seventeen men have been holed up in a high-security building since Tuesday, when they lit several fires to protest against poor conditions. The building has since been extensively damaged and the Department of Corrections said it was unlikely to be used again.

The chairman of the Maniapoto Māori Trust Board, Keith Ikin, said the iwi was in close contact with the Department of Corrections, and was seeking a peaceful resolution as soon as possible. “We are absolutely hopeful that we can find a resolution to this that ensures everyone’s safety,” he said.

Sources at Waikeria have told RNZ the 17 men are protesting about dilapidated conditions, cramped cells and a lack of basic supplies, including clean drinking water. They have been unwilling to co-operate with officials and leave the prison over fears for their safety.

The men had requested the presence of a Māori leader, such as Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, before they would agree to leave.

Ikin said he was unaware of the conditions inside the prison but that he would welcome an independent review into what happened at Waikeria.

Waititi said he would happily speak with the prisoners.

“When your people are 50 per cent of the prison population and the system continuously is feasting on the dysfunction it’s created amongst my people, of course I want to talk to them.

“This is indicative of a failing justice system and this has been going on for many years – if you are 50 per cent of the prison population it shows the systemic racism we have, and the rioting is there because there is ill-treatment,” he said.

Waititi said the Minister of Corrections needed to see if Hokai Rangi was working.

Hokai Rangi, a strategy introduced by the Department of Corrections in 2019, aims to drastically cut the number of Māori in prison from 52 per cent down to 16 – to match the overall Māori population. The five-year goal is to reduce the number by 10 per cent.

“What’s going on here? We need to sit down have a chat and see what the problems are,” Waititi said.

He said reports water coming from the taps in the prison was brown and sheets were not washed frequently were appalling.

“It’s basic human rights to have clean running water, we have bottling companies bottling tribal waters and shipping it off overseas while these men are drinking brown water – someone needs to take responsibility for that.”

The Department of Corrections said earlier that it had highly trained staff with specialist skills who were continuing to negotiate with the men involved. A review into the incident has been commissioned and the reasons for the men’s actions would be considered.

– RNZ

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