Māori Party calls for 'urgent inquiry' into 'inhumane' treatment of inmates in New Zealand

The Māori Party is calling for an urgent inquiry into the treatment of inmates in Aotearoa's prisons.

It follows the recent protest in Waikeria Prison, involving 16 inmates, against alleged inhumane treatment; and a ruling by Judge David McNaughton which found inmates at Auckland Women's Prison were treated in an "inhumane and degrading" manner.

This included being forced to undress in front of male guards, gassed in their cells and denied sanitary products. 

Co-leader Rawiri Waititi said the treatment of inmates is symptomatic of a wider issue.

"We are beginning to see a pattern here - a state that enables and fosters the inhumane treatment of our people in prison."

He likened it to the controversy over Oranga Tamariki, which has been in headlines for months with coverage of uplifts of Māori babies, who are five times more likely to be taken into state care than babies of other ethnicities.

A Children's Commissioner report in November found Oranga Tamariki was beyond salvaging, and should be rebuilt to ensure better outcomes for Māori. It recommended authority of the organisation be handed over to Māori.

"When our people make up over half of the prison population, and are at the centre of maltreatment cases, we advocate for them to ensure their safety and wellbeing," said Waititi.

"I absolutely believe that people must serve their time, but not at the expense of basic human rights and dignity." 

Davis hasn't indicated he intends to launch an inquiry, saying on Monday he would not treat Judge McNaughton's ruling as fact as he needed more information. 

He said while there had been an admission that behaviour escalated "on both sides", he had been told allegations inmates had to undress in front of male guards were false.

"I've been assured that that practice is not happening, and that's why I say there are two different accounts to what's been said, and so I need to find out for myself exactly what the facts are."