The National Party says Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has "plenty of questions to answer" now the Waikeria Prison standoff has finished.
The inmates surrendered on Sunday after a six-day protest over what they claim are inhumane conditions and a lack of access to basic necessities at the prison. During the unrest, they destroyed the 'top jail' facility, according to Davis, rendering it unusable.
National's Corrections spokesperson Simeon Brown says it is "appalling" the standoff was allowed to continue for six days under Davis' watch.
"This incident must now be the subject of an independent investigation, rather than an internal review, to find out whether Corrections was adequately prepared to deal with a prison takeover. On face value, it doesn't appear they were," he says.
Department of Corrections chief executive Jeremey Lightfoot said on Sunday he's commissioned two internal reviews. One is operational, which is due to be finished in three months, and the second is a wider review that will allow Corrections to see some wider issues of the protest, which may take between six and nine months to complete.
Brown says Davis' hands "are not completely clean" now the standoff has finished.
"He scrapped the last National Government's plans to upgrade Waikeria Prison and then procrastinated on what to do with the facility before scaling back the number of new beds by almost 1000."
In 2018, the Government announced it had scrapped National's plan for a 1500 bed prison and instead wanted to build a 500-bed high-security unit and a 100-bed mental health facility. It is currently under construction and is due to open in 2022. National's mega-prison option at the time aimed to address overcrowding issues in New Zealand's prison system.
Brown says the Government scaling back the number of beds not only showed disregard for the safety of New Zealanders, but it also left Waikeria's inmates in conditions they were protesting.
"My thoughts are with the Corrections officers who responded to this difficult situation. I want to pay particular thanks to those on the ground for the work they did to end this riot safely."
Davis said earlier on Sunday there is "never an excuse for resorting to violence and destruction" and the protesters could have raised their concerns through the Corrections Inspectorate and the Office of the Ombudsman. He says these methods weren't used and issues were never raised before this standoff.
"No one should glorify the actions of these prisoners. They damaged property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and they put their own lives and the health and safety of staff and other prisoners at risk," he said.
"I have instructed Corrections to undertake a comprehensive review into how this situation was able to evolve and escalate to the extent it did and report their findings back to me. They will also assess the damage done to the prison, but no one is expected to return to the 'top jail' facility."
He said he received regular briefings, often hourly on most days, about the protest, but didn't make a public comment because that would've opened up political negotiation with the inmates and would've "achieved nothing" to bring the event to a safe resolution.
Davis said the Government is committed to improving the situation for prisoners in New Zealand, which includes:
- investing $98 million to work in partnership with whanau, hapū, and iwi to reduce the rates of Māori reoffending
- ditching the American-style mega-prison planned by the previous National Government at Waikeria
- investing $128 million in mental health and addiction services for offenders
- launching Hōkai Rangi, a strategy designed to address the long-term challenge of Māori reoffending and imprisonment.
He added New Zealand's prison population has reduced by 20 percent since it peaked in March 2018.