On Sunday, following a tense six-day standoff, 16 prisoners involved in protesting appalling conditions at New Zealand’s Waikeria Prison surrendered to authorities. Five of the 21 men who started the protest had already given themselves up. The men had climbed onto the roof of a prison block and caused significant damage, including by starting fires.
Authorities responded with brutal measures. On December 31, three days into the protest, Newshub cited an anonymous source who said negotiators from the Corrections Department were “withholding food and water in a bid to starve out” the prisoners—a claim echoed in other media outlets. The same source said prisoners had accused armed officers of trying to “storm them” during the night.
Prisoners were demanding improved conditions at Waikeria, which was built in 1911 in the Otorohanga district, and is one of the most run-down and unsanitary prisons in the country. The protesters alleged that they were being made to wait months for medical treatment and to wear the same dirty clothing also for months. As well, they complained about the poor quality of drinking water.
A statement posted on social media by People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA), reportedly issued by the prisoners, also stated: “We have no toilet seats: we eat our kai [food] out of paper bags right next to our open, shared toilets… We are Māori people forced into a European system. Prisons do not work! Prisons have not worked for the generations before!… They keep doing this to our people, and we have had enough! There is no support in prison… no rehabilitation, nothing.”
Waikeria exemplifies the brutal situation that exists throughout the prison system. A report issued by Ombudsman Peter Boshier, in August 2020, noted that two-thirds of Waikeria’s population were Māori. Indigenous people make up around 15 percent of New Zealanders, but they are far more likely to be incarcerated. The majority of Māori are among the most exploited layers of the working class.