The stand off between prisoners and Corrections staff in Waikeria is now entering its fifth day.
Prison conditions are the primary cause. Stuff has published this description of conditions from a prisoner in Waikeria who is not part of the group currently holed up.
An inmate at Waikeria Prison has described the 43 hours he was in lockdown while prisoners from its “top jail” were evacuated on December 29.
A group of 16 inmates are holed up on the jail’s roof after starting a riot and lighting fires in the prison yard on Tuesday afternoon.
“We got the call about 1.45pm that there was to be an emergency lockdown and we all went to our cells, compliant”, said the prisoner, who cannot be named.
”We weren’t served our dinner until 10.30pm and some of us didn’t receive our nightly medication on time.
“We were asking for fresh water but were getting refused. It was about 32 hours before we got some fresh, cold water.”
The inmate said he had not spent any time in the top jail but understood the criticism around its poor condition.
“They are pretty much arguing for the same things as everyone else, essential needs that we don’t get, like cleaning products, our medical needs, food, good clothing kit.
“The water here is terrible, if you let it settle you can see all the sediment fall to the bottom.
“From what I understand, the top jail, the living conditions there are pretty appalling.”
Inmates are not the only ones complaining. Ombudsman Peter Boshier, who is dedicated to his role and upholds the finest traditions of his office and of the need for independence, had his office make a surprise visit to the prison in October 2019. His report about the visit describes the prison in this way:
Waikeria Prison (the Prison) opened in 1911 and is situated south of Te Awamutu. It can hold 803 remand and sentenced tāne1 with security classifications ranging from minimum to high. Over 27 percent of tāne are on remand, and 24 percent are serving sentences in excess of four years. Tāne held at the Prison come from across the country but predominantly from the Bay of Plenty region. The prison has a large Māori population (approximately 67 percent).
I authorised my Inspectors to conduct a nine day inspection of the facility in October 2019, using defined criteria to assess the standards of treatment tāne were experiencing, and their living conditions.
Prison conditions significantly varied between the high and low security complexes. Most tāne in the high security complex (HSC) were double-bunked in cells originally designed for one, and living conditions were poor. Tāne in the HSC were subject to a basic yard-to-cell regime and limited activities. In contrast, the low security complex (LSC) was spacious, clean, tidy and outdoor areas well maintained. The provision and quality of clothing and bedding was problematic across both complexes.
The Separates Units in both the HSC and LSC were no longer fit for purpose, compounded by the lack of natural light, poor ventilation and small cell sizes.
The Prison had a 12 month dispensation from the National Commissioner Corrections Services to mix remand accused with remand convicted tāne, due to the number on remand and the limited number of high security beds. Remand tāne who had been assessed as low risk were placed in the LSC. This resulted in better conditions and access to more purposeful activities for a significant proportion of remand accused tāne.
Levels of violence in the Prison were high and accounted for 22 percent of all incidents over a 12-month period. The Prison had the second highest gang population (44 percent) in the country.
He said this about the higher securities complex:
The HSC environment is not fit for purpose and is impacting adversely on the treatment of tāne, presenting the Prison’s leadership team with significant challenges. I am aware a new 600-bed facility is under construction at the Waikeria Prison site. I am told the new prison will include a 100-bed mental health facility co-designed and co-run between the Department and the Waikato District Health Board. The anticipated opening date for the new prison is 2022.
I welcome the building of this new facility which will improve conditions for tāne. I look forward to seeing these developments, including the increased provision in mental health care for tāne experiencing mental distress.
His recommendations included the following:
The prisoners’ complaints about mistreatment have some pretty substantial backing.
National has been having a lot of fun with the issue and has been asking where Kelvin Davis has been. They think he should ride in on his white charger and sort the matter out.
In that particularly myopic way they have of analysing the past they have laid the blame on Kelvin’s shoulders, without commenting on why Waikeria Prison has been allowed to disintegrate so badly over such a long period.
At the announcement of the new upgrade to the prison made in June 2018 Kelvin Davis said this:
One of the first prisons I visited after becoming Minister was Waikeria.
And the first thing that I thought was: This place is horrific.
The yards are like animal cages. It was first designed 100 years ago and isn’t fit for purpose for either staff or prisoners.
Now, I know prisons shouldn’t be resorts.
Offenders must face consequences – and the loss of freedom is punishment for the crimes people commit.
But in saying that, we shouldn’t be sending people to prison to become better criminals rather than better people.
We all know the state that our prison system is in.
We have 10,600 people inside a network designed to house 9,254.
That is too many people.
Too many people already inside our prisons cells, and far too many people looking to join them.
And most importantly, too many victims.
We inherited a network that was already under stress and heading even further in the wrong direction.
We as a country have a real problem.
And we need to be real about the solution.
There is no silver bullet, no single tweak we can make to legislation that is going to address the problem overnight.
The solutions we are putting in place will be tough – but it is a good start.
This proposal scaled back National’s earlier proposal for a 1,500 bed PPP project announced by Judith Collins in 2016. It reflected Labour’s desire to drive down the rate of incarceration while at the same time providing adequate and civilised facilities for inmates and keeping the provision of facilities under state control. The desire to utilise private funding and management of the prison was made against the backdrop of the absolute circus that Serco had made of Mount Eden Prison.
There has been two recent instances of oppositioning by opposition MP’s about the stand off. One example is very good. The other is appalling.
Tha Maori Party’s Rawiri Waititi should take a bow. This Newshub article sets out the reasons why:
Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi has been granted access inside Waikeria Prison, after calls from inmates to help end the four-day standoff.
Sixteen inmates remain holed up in what’s known as the ‘top jail’, a unit built in 1911 the group have destroyed by lighting fires, which still burn.
Late Thursday night Corrections confirmed one inmate had surrendered, but 16 men remain “non-compliant”.
Inmates earlier said Waititi was the only person they wanted to negotiate with. Corrections initially declined his offer.
The inmates have been protesting the allegedly inhumane treatment they’ve been subjected to.
Waititi says “a number of prisoners” contacted him directly to discuss their concerns.
“I’ve heard their call and I am making my way to Waikeria to meet with them, to listen, to support their call for justice and work towards a solution,” he said.
“They deserve the right to be treated humanely, with fresh water, food and clean clothing and they deserve to have someone advocating for them.”
He has been exercising his right under section 161 of the Corrections Act 2004 which states:
(1) Any member of Parliament may, whenever the member considers it appropriate, enter a prison and examine it and the condition of the prisoners, and may inform the prison manager of his or her observations.
(2) The prison manager must ensure that any observations of a member of Parliament are recorded and that a permanent record of those observations is kept at the prison.
(3) A member of Parliament is not entitled, under subsection (1), to communicate with any prisoner except in relation to—
(a) his or her treatment in the prison; or
(b) a complaint that prisoner makes about that treatment.
The very bad oppositioning, also known as grandstanding, has been engaged in by Simeon Brown and Barbara Kuriger.
Today @BarbaraKuriger and I were denied entry to Waikeria Prison to speak with the Prison Director about the ongoing riot. Under section 161 of the Corrections Act MP’s can enter a prison at any time. We have written to Kelvin Davis asking you allow us to visit. pic.twitter.com/yFyLHxZZrH
— Simeon Brown (@SimeonBrownMP) January 2, 2021
The purpose of the section is to enter the prison to talk to prisoners and check out how they are. Entering a prison to tell the Prison Director how to suck eggs does not fall within the intent of the section. If they really want to talk to him they can ring him. And there has to be a tension between exercising the right and ensuring the safety of not only yourself but of the Corrections staff. Simeon should really try harder.
But resolving this is not National’s goal. They just want to watch it all burn, because the politics is better for them if it does.
This will be an unpopular opinion but the last thing that I would want is a Minister overseeing such an incident and calling the shots. Politicians should stay well away from these sorts of events.
Why is Waititi’s involvement helpful but Davis should keep out? It is because of the different roles played. Waititi is providing representation and a communication conduit. Davis is in a position of authority and these decisions are operational.
I hope this gets resolved peaceably. Time will tell.
Update: media reports are that the prisoners have surrendered. From the Herald:
The 16 inmates who overran Waikeria Prison last week have finally surrendered, Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi says.
The group had been evading capture on the jail’s roof after starting a riot and lighting damaging fires in the prison yard on Tuesday afternoon.
They had been making threats at staff and police, throwing debris at them from the roof of the buildings.
The inmates were protesting about a number of things, from their water reportedly being brown, bedding being unclean, and being fed food from paper bags.
Waititi, the MP for Waiariki, says people must serve the time for their crimes but they deserve to be treated in a humane way.
“Even prison guards acknowledged to us that the state of the unit was unacceptable,” he said.
Congratulations to Rawiri Waititi.
Now let the politicking continue.
And before criticise Kelvin Davis can I suggest something which proves that his respect for operational independence was the correct decision. Imagine if Judith Collins had been calling the shots on this.