January 04, 2021
Waikeria riot raises questions about gang influence
There’s a call for a review of the influence of gang culture in prisons in the wake of the Waikeria Prison riot.
Sixteen prisoners surrendered around noon on Sunday after a five-day standoff in which they caused extensive damage to a 100-year-old prison block.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says the majority of the men involved were members of the Mongols and Comancheros gangs, including five 501s or deportees from Australia.
New Zealand Maori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki paid tribute to the work of Ngāti Maniapoto kaumatua in bringing the incident to a peaceful conclusion, and to the emergency services who were on standby at the prison throughout the five days.
He says issues of gang supremacy appeared to be behind the uprising, rather than human rights or living conditions.
“For all this talk of human rights, I’m not hearing anything about these guys’ victims,” he says.
Mr Tukaki says there was no need for another systemic review of Corrections, but recommendations of previous reviews should be implemented.
“We need to focus our time and attention on what the increasing number of gangs and gang members are doing to the system and to New Zealand society,” he says.
“More gangs mean more incarceration rates, more tension in the prisons, more recruitment in the prisons.
“We don’t want young people in the prisons. We have to break the link between youth justice and the adult prison system.
“We have to make sure young people come out of an encounter with the justice system with jobs or a plan or hope and opportunity and wraparound support.”
Mr Tukaki says Corrections also needed to overhaul its staff recruitment and training.
He says it has not planned for normal attrition within its workforce, and it has filled the gaps by recruiting from overseas.
“We need a training institute, where corrections officers can get intensive training before they start work.
“We need to make sure they are trained to understand the social and cultural needs of the cohort they will be working with.
“They also need training in intelligence matters to prevent situations like this before they occur, and I’d also like to see a dedicated gang intelligence unit involving both Police and Corrections,” Mr Tukaki says.
He says minister Davis made the right call by standing off and refusing to talk directly to the inmates.
Meanwhile, justice reform group JustSpeak is calling on Corrections and Police to not press additional charges against the men who have been protesting.
Spokesperson Tania Sawicki Mead says any review needs to look at ongoing breaches of human rights at Waikeria, including unmet basic human needs and poor living conditions at the prison.
She says the fact an Action Station petition started by People Against Prisons Aotearoa collected almost 7000 signatures in two days demonstrated a groundswell of support for the protesters and a public mandate for Corrections to address the systemic issues which led to the protest being necessary.
Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi, who accompanied the prisoners out of the jail as they surrendered, said they achieved what they set out to do when they embarked on bringing attention to their maltreatment in prison.”
He thanked the prison authorities for allowing “Māori to deal with our own in a Māori way”.
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