16 Waikeria Prison rioters file civil rights cases against Corrections CEO, Attorney-General

The 16 Waikeria Prison inmates who rioted in protest at their living conditions have filed civil rights cases against Attorney-General David Parker and Corrections CEO Jeremy Lightfoot.

The prisoners - who surrendered to Corrections on January 3 following a six-day standoff that involved fires, destruction and violent clashes - each filed their claims with the High Court, the Māori Party revealed on Wednesday.

All 16 prisoners involved in the riot allege Parker and Lightfoot breached their civil rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, the Corrections Act and the UN's Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Fourteen of the men who are Māori have also filed claims with the Waitangi Tribunal.

"The facts will show that the prisoners have been treated inhumanely and with extreme cruelty by Corrections staff," said Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi.

"For months, the men had been denied the right to complain about their conditions because staff would not give them the standard PCO1 complaint forms."

Waititi alleges their water was brown, the building was full of asbestos, and requests for clean sheets and towels went ignored - in some cases for as long as six months. He says some of the men had been subjected to serious violence, and all had been the victims of degrading and racist treatment.

The Department of Corrections has denied the riot started as a protest over living conditions. In February, Lightfoot told a Justice Select Committee the incident was "spontaneous" and "not borne out of complaints".

Lightfoot said he wanted to be clear that while the men described their behaviour as a protest, their actions were "violent and put hundreds of people at risk", throwing doubt on the inmates' claims that they were protesting against their treatment in prison. 

"It exposed them, other prisoners, our staff and emergency services to significant danger and caused a huge amount of trauma for those prisoners that were evacuated from the top jail and difficulties for those who were on site," he told the hearing. 

"There is no excuse for what they have done."

Last month, 17 prisoners appeared in court to face charges spanning rioting, riotously destroying property, burglary using a weapon, and wilfully setting fire to property and endangering life.

But Waititi says the treatment of the Waikeria Prison inmates who protested was "disgusting".

"A nation is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. Our prisoners are one of our most vulnerable communities. It's time that Aotearoa faces up to the fact that our human rights record is shocking, particularly when it comes to dealing with Māori.

"This is why Te Paati Māori is supporting these men in their efforts to ask the High Court and the Waitangi Tribunal to look into prison conditions. Their brave efforts in taking this litigation will benefit all New Zealanders, Māori and non-Māori."