Opposition mounting against $bil Waikato mega-prison

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

Opposition is mounting against the $1bil mega-prison planned for Waikeria.

1,300 letters from community organisation Action Station have been sent to Justice Minister Andrew Little and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis to stop the build. 

Now the King Movement has waded into the debate saying the money would be better spent on rehabilitation and reintegration.

Action Station Campaign Director Laura O’Connell Rapira says there are hundreds of letters from around the country calling for a prisoner prevention, rehabilitation, and restorative justice system.

“Government supporting more Māori-led initiatives for community support,” says O’Connell Rapira, “Widening the use of marae-based restorative justice practices to not just rangatahi and young people but to all people”.

The $1bil spend will mean the prison of nearly 600 will hold up to 3,000 prisoners, making it the country's largest, right in the heart of the Waikato.

“The concern for us is that the money is being spent on upgrading the prison and who will fill it?” asks King Movement spokesperson Rahu Papa, “More Māori”. 

“If we want to establish processes to stop our people from going to prison we must help our youth and people so that they don't fall on the wrong side of the law, to make right choices,” says Minister of Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta.

Last year King Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero VII signed an accord with Corrections to reduce recidivism and reintegrate released prisoners with affiliations to the Kiingitanga.

Last week the Māori King announced he will gift Waikato land valued at $3mil to build transitional housing for prisoners.

“We want the money to be spent on programmes that stop Māori from going to prison, such as the Pae Oranga (National Iwi Panels) launched last week and the Kiingitanga Accord Agreement signed with Corrections,” says Papa.

The Chair of the Ngāti Maniapoto Trust Board tells Te Kāea they are unable to comment on the $1bil upgrade as they and Ngāti Raukawa are in still in settlement talks with the Office of Treaty Settlements which includes an interest in Waikeria Prison.