23 Feb 2021

Te Paati Māori calls for urgent ministerial inquiry into treatment of prisoners

4:42 pm on 23 February 2021

Te Paati Māori has called for an urgent ministerial inquiry into the treatment of inmates, following a judge's ruling that prisoners at Auckland Women's Prison were treated in an "inhumane" and "degrading" manner.

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Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

In the ruling, Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton said that inmates Mihi Bassett and Karma Cripps had been subject to a "concerted effort to break their spirit".

The ruling, made when assessing whether inmate Mihi Bassett should have her sentence extended for arson at the prison in 2019, confirmed treatment exposed by RNZ last year.

This included that the women had to remove their underwear in front of male guards in order to get clean pairs, and were, at times, denied toiletries and sanitary products.

Justice McNaughton also described the use of Cell Buster pepper spray to force the women out of their cells as "excessive", and a practice of making them lie on the floor to receive food as "inhumane".

Te Paati Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi said on the back of the recent protest at Waikeria prison, a clear pattern was emerging.

"A state that enables and fosters the inhumane treatment of our people in prison. We've seen it with our babies in Oranga Tamariki and we're seeing it again in the Department of Corrections," he said.

"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."

Yesterday, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said he was not taking the ruling at face value and was seeking more facts from Corrections.

He said the allegations were raised in court and Corrections were not given an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

Waititi said Davis should be commissioning an urgent inquiry, not sweeping things under the rug.

"What makes matters worse is that we have a minister who continues to defend his department's failings and pretend they never happened, even after expert opinions have found in favour of the complainants," he said.

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