Waikeria Prison standoff: Inmates achieved goal of 'bringing attention to their maltreatment' - Māori Party

The Māori Party believes the inmates' protest over their treatment at Waikeria Prison has changed the face of Corrections in New Zealand forever.

The inmates surrendered on Sunday after a standoff lasting six days and were escorted out by Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, he says. Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis later confirmed the men had surrendered.

Waititi arrived at the prison at 9:30am and at the request of the 16 inmates still protesting, and says they achieved what they set out to do - "bringing attention to their maltreatment in prison".

"When injustice is normalised, defiance and protest is necessary. These men are the product of such injustices and through their protest they have changed the face [of] Corrections forever," Waititi says.

"Whilst people that do crime must serve their time, they must also be treated in a just and humane way. Even prison guards acknowledged to us that the state of the unit was unacceptable."

Prisoners began their protest on Tuesday over what they claim are inhumane conditions and a lack of access to basic necessities. Waititi says the prisoners deserve better treatment.

"If you treat a person like a dog, they will act like one and that is the saddest part of this whole saga.

"These men are not animals, they are humans; they are brothers, fathers and sons."

The New Zealand Māori Council says it is "extremely pleased" the standoff has finished without "any additional violence or damage", but a discussion needs to take place over the current state of justice, law, and corrections in New Zealand.

"Of course, there are many questions that need to be asked and answered and that will happen in the coming weeks," executive director Matthew Tukaki says.

"We also need to put on the table everything we can when dealing with prevention and postvention - in other words doing more as a nation to prevent crime and therefore prevent our people from entering into the criminal justice system and wrap-around services and support post-release to ensure we bring the numbers down of those returning."

A fire at Waikeria Prison on Saturday.
A fire at Waikeria Prison on Saturday. Photo credit: Newshub.

He adds this will also require a conversation and action on the aging infrastructure in the system, ensuring there's enough investment in social and community services support, whether or not the workforce is currently fit for purpose, and the role of gangs.

Davis said on Sunday the majority of prisoners involved in the standoff are members of the Mongols and Comancheros gangs. Five of the men are also deportees from Australia, with three of them subject to returning offender orders due to their criminal convictions.

Tukaki says the unrest at Waikeria shows this issue has been "bubbling away for some time" and action must be taken to resolve it.

"The less people committing crime, the less people in jail is a symptom of a healthy society - and that must be our end game."