By Meriana Johnsen of RNZ
A new report highlighting inhumane treatment of prisoners shows Corrections is not putting its Hōkai Rangi strategy into practice and has lost all its credibility, a former prisoner and justice reform advocate says.
A report by the Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier into the country's only maximum security prison Paremoremo revealed that prisoners were being locked in cells for up to 23 hours a day, despite opening up new units for rehabilitation.
He also found two breaches of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Former prisoner and justice reform advocate Awatea Mita said she was appalled at the findings.
"Corrections has no credibility in being able to deliver the Hōkai Rangi strategy, this was about delivering better outcomes for Māori and their whānau because of the significant overrepresentation of Māori in the Corrections system and they're failing to do that.
"I had a lot of hope in Hōkai Rangi, I wanted to give Kelvin Davis the benefit of the doubt but I'm absolutely appalled at what's going on and it just adds to the heartbreak of knowing that we have our own whānau in there."
She said there was a conflict between good policy and the "extremely punitive" culture that was "totally opposed" to bringing in those changes.
Mita said punitive action in prisons, such as cell busting or using pepper spray to remove prisoners from their cells, appeared to be increasing and Corrections was "just introducing more cruel ways of treating people".
She said concerns about poor ventilation in New Zealand prisons were raised over 170 years ago, but prisoners living in containers were passing out because of the heat when she was on the inside.
Another former prisoner and academic Rawiri Waretini-Karena was an independent consultant for the Māori Corrections strategy, Hōkai Rangi, which promised that prisoners would be treated with dignity, respect and have their mana upheld, and said this report showed that cultural shift had not happened.
"The focus should be on rehabilitation but they're locking people up for 22 to 23 hours a day."
He was also concerned about the lack of ventilation in summer as he said the prison cells are "like a sauna 24/7".
"Where I used to be in Waikeria you couldn't close the windows so you got a whole waft of summer air, but what was even worse than that is that at night you'd get visited by about 300 mosquitoes and you had no way of trying to block them out."
He was calling on Corrections to enact Hōkai Rangi, which he had helped develop and pushed since 2016.
"The culture has got to change and if they're not ready to take it on board then they're not in the right job."
However, the union for prison officers has said that if prisoners wanted to be treated differently, they needed to start behaving.
Waretini-Karena said the union was not seeing the full picture.
"What they're seeing is an outward manifestation of behaviours that are intergenerational and you've got to look at the whakapapa of that because what I say is the legislation that confiscated land, that removed language, culture, and heritage [is] also implicit in the crimes of the people that they've been a part of because the culture that destroys another culture is also a party to the induction of crime and that's what they haven't looked at," he said.
Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis was not available to comment.