A prominent Ngāpuhi elder is shocked to find inmates at Ngawha Prison are denied water and forced to relieve themselves in the exercise yard.

Hone Sadler said it was devastating to find such conditions at the prison when iwi had such high hopes Ngawha would be different.

He was one of the kaumātua who were promised by the government in 2004 that the new prison near Kaikohe would help Māori inmates turn their lives around.

"I'm pretty gutted with that kind of report, I'm shocked that this is happening in Ngawha," Sadler said.

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"That prison was set up almost as a model for rehabilitating Māori and that's not going to help people be rehabilitated."

He said the government of the time also promised that Ngawha would house Northland prisoners so whānau could visit them, but that promise has also been broken.

Corrections also promised it would bring Māori elders in to run programmes for the Ngawha prisoners, to teach them and give them cultural support, Sadler said.

Hone Sadler said it was devastating to find such conditions at the prison when iwi had such high hopes Ngawha would be different. Photo / Northern Advocate
Hone Sadler said it was devastating to find such conditions at the prison when iwi had such high hopes Ngawha would be different. Photo / Northern Advocate

Another supporter of Ngawha was Dover Samuels, who held the Māori Affairs portfolio when the prison opened in 2004.

He said the Ombudsman's report was disappointing for iwi and whānau who had backed the development of Ngawha.

But he said rather than be despondent, Māori needed to face the challenge head on to support their whānau.

The Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, said the prison's relationship with iwi was fragile and the lack of cultural support for the Māori inmates was disturbing.

"When my inspectors went to the prison and endeavoured to engage in a way which was Tikanga Māori, there was no enthusiasm for a Māori angle to the way in which consultation should occur, no te reo Māori was spoken."

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This week the Government announced Hōkai Rangi - a strategy to cut the number of Māori prisoners, and uphold their mana while inside.

Julia Whaipooti from the Justice Advisory Group said the Ombudsman's report revealed the extent of the culture shift required at prisons like Ngawha for Hōkai Rangi to be successful.

In a statement to RNZ, the Department of Corrections said Ngawha prison was working hard to re-establish it's relationship with iwi through regular meetings which had been taking place since November 2018.

"Prisoners are being supported to determine their iwi, hapū and marae where not known. A range of cultural programmes are delivered throughout the year, including Tikanga Mauri Tū Pae, and whakairo (carving) workshops also take place," said the department.

- RNZ