Human Rights Commission calls for inquiry into Waikeria Prison protest

The Human Rights Commission (HRC) is calling for an independent inquiry into the Waikeria Prison protest.

On Sunday sixteen men surrendered after they destroyed the 'top jail' facility and occupied the prison's rooftop for six days. They said they were protesting over what they claim were inhumane conditions and a lack of access to basic necessities.

A report last year following a surprise visit from the Ombudsman found issues with clothing and bedding, ventilation and sanitation in cells, poor access to cleaning supplies, and the general size and state of the cells.

In a statement after the prisoners came down from the roof, HRC Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt said "important lessons must be learnt" from the uprising and recommended the Office of the Ombudsman investigate.

"The Ombudsman's team of investigators has been telling us for years that conditions in many of our prisons are sub-standard and do not meet basic international human rights requirements," he said.

"Whatever triggered this protest, poor prison conditions are a vital part of the context. Last August, the Ombudsman published a report on Waikeria and concluded that the high security complex is no longer fit for purpose.

"Only last month the Human Rights Commission published a report that demonstrated serious failings in the prison system. We know the human rights standards, we know the failings, there is no shortage of reports and recommendations, including some from Corrections itself, yet progress is glacial. I sense no urgency."

Addressing media on Sunday afternoon, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis accused the prisoners of "reckless criminal acts" and said there is "never an excuse for resorting to violence and destruction".

"There are many legitimate avenues for prisoners to raise concerns about their conditions, including through the independent Corrections Inspectorate and the Office of the Ombudsman," he said.

"These prisoners used none of those avenues and never raised any issues prior to this event."

Department of Corrections chief executive Jeremey Lightfoot added there was "no excuse" for what the men did and there are "many channels to complain".

Davis also praised all those involved for ending the incident, "especially the Corrections staff who responded to the initial incident".

"I'd also like to extend my gratitude to members of the Police, Ambulance, and Fire and Emergency services who responded alongside Corrections staff and provided them with support and assistance to deal with this situation."

During the stand-off, negotiators withheld food and water in a bid to starve out the prisoners on the roof. The inmates appeared to get increasingly desperate for supplies, with a source telling Newshub they've been trying to squeeze water out of an old hose to drink.

Hunt was highly critical of Corrections if this was true.

"During the protest it was reported that the non-supply of water was used as a negotiating tactic," he wrote in his statement.

"If that proves to be accurate, this was inhumane and unlawful and suggests that some people in Corrections are living in the past."