Mixed iwi reaction to new 600 bed prison

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

There's mixed reaction by iwi to the government's plan to build a new 600 bed facility at Waikeria Prison in Waikato, to relieve pressure on the growing prison population.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says there is no greater risk to the future of Māori than increasing incarceration.

“It is of utmost importance that government work with whānau, hapu, and iwi to face this challenge together,” says Davis.

Ngāti Raukawa supports the move.

“The engagement actually has been very good so to their credit I need to acknowledge that,” says Raukawa Settlement Trust Chair, Vanessa Eparaima.

“We really took the approach to work ourselves through in the best way possible to get the best outcomes through the resource management.”

However, Ngāti Maniapoto is not buying it.

In a statement to Te Kāea, Maniapoto Māori Trust Board Chair, Tiwha Bell says he doesn't have any comment to provide on this matter on the basis that they have not been involved in the decisions and have not been briefed on what is proposed.

“The decision that's been made by Minister Davis, I think it's a very good one,” says Eparaima.

“It's a decision where it looks at the issues and the additional hundred beds- more mental health facilities is a good way to go.”

Waikera’s current high-security ‘top jail” is 100 years old.

“The yards are like animal cages. It was first designed 100 years ago and isn't fit for purpose for either staff or prisoners,” says Davis.

That’s all about to change with the government’s plan to build a new 500-bed high-security prison, plus a 100-bed mental health unit

“Like I said at the beginning,” said Davis, “I didn't come into this role to cover up the cracks with band-aids.”

Meanwhile, opposition to the new prison facility continues to mount with a rally planned outside parliament by advocacy group People Against Prisons Aotearoa, next Tuesday.