Rally at parliament against Waikeria prison expansion

By Jessica Tyson

A rally has been organised outside parliament today to oppose the government's decision to build a 600 bed unit at Waikeria Prison in Waikato.

The rally has been organised by advocacy group People Against Prisons Aotearoa who are urging the government to halt construction.

PAPA spokeswoman Kate McIntyre says alternative measures need to be taken to reduce the prison population.

"Prisons are a total failure. They do not rehabilitate people or keep communities safe.  The government must cease all prison construction and take serious measures to reduce the prison population,” she says.

"Almost a third of people currently in prison are awaiting trial or sentencing and about half of those won't be sentenced to any time in prison.  By repealing the Bail Amendment Act, more than a thousand people could be released."

According to McIntyre, the plans for expansion, and the recent backdown on the Three Strikes law indicate that the government has little interest in pushing hard enough for legislative change.

"The government would rather spend $750 million on a new prison than release people who haven't even been found guilty of anything, or people who would be eligible for parole if they only had access to suitable housing."

Opinion from Corrections Minister

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis who recently spoke to Te Kāea reporter Mānia Clarke says the yards at Waikeria prison are like animal cages. 

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

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

He says it is of utmost importance that government works with whānau, hapu, and iwi to face the challenge together.

Opinion from local iwi

Ngāti Raukawa supports the move.

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

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

She says, “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.”

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 rally today will take place outside Parliament today at 1pm. 

Speakers include Criminology professor Dr. Liam Martin, Māori mental health expert Dr Keri Lawson-Te Aho, human rights advocate Gayaal Iddamalgoda, PAPA organiser from Ngāti Maniapoto, Rei-Marata Goddard, and Duncan Allan from Unite Union.