A recently-released inmate of Ngawha Prison is siding with the Ombudsman's damning report about the facility and how prisoners are treated, referring to the place as the "devil's pit".

Terrence Taiapo spent nearly half his life at mainly Ngawha Prison but changed for the better upon his release in December last year and managed to find work as a forestry worker.

The 34-year-old from Kaikohe said the withdrawal of effective rehabilitation programmes involving Maori elders and ongoing issues with a lack of proper clothing, food and access to other basic necessities hindered opportunities for prisoners to turn their lives around.

His comments followed Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier's latest report to Parliament followed an unannounced visit by his officials to Ngawha Prison - officially the Northland Regional Corrections Facility - in February.

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"My Inspectors found that prisoners were resorting to urinating and, on occasion, defecating in the compound because of a lack of toilet facilities," Boshier found.

"Inspectors were advised by staff of a restriction on access to drinking water in the yard - prisoners were not allowed to take water bottles or drinks containers there and instead to use the drinking fountain which was integrated into the yard's lavatory.

"Restricting prisoners' access to toilets and water is unacceptable and current mitigations were inadequate. I consider this to be degrading treatment and a breach of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture," Boshier said.

The Ombudsman is scathing of the treatment of prisoners at Ngawha Prison, including restricting prisoners' access to toilets and water. Photo/Supplied
The Ombudsman is scathing of the treatment of prisoners at Ngawha Prison, including restricting prisoners' access to toilets and water. Photo/Supplied

While high security prisoners were transferred out of the facility in 2013, he said many of the processes and practices were more suited to a high security setting and impeded the achievement of the prison's vision to develop a Kaupapa Māori-based culture to support tāne to take their proper place in the community.

In addition, he said both prisoners and staff reported long-standing shortages of both clothing and bedding.

Boshier said relationship between the prison and iwi were "fragile" and although 47 per cent of inmates was Māori, cultural provision was limited. That figure stood at 57 per cent as at Tuesday.

Taiapo, a former Black Power gang member, said issues with shortages of food, clothing and bedding at the prison have been around for a long time.

"Sometimes prisoners miss dinner and they then have to wait till the next morning. The management there can be quite cruel. To them, you're just a number.

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"Things were better but has become worse. Everything from food, clothing to prisoners' protection — it's a devil's pit. We always had kaumatua, kuia come in and help in integrating with our whanau.

"They taught kaupapa stuff and I've seen positive changes. But all that stopped about a year ago. Some prisoners I know have never come back to prison," the father of eight said.

Former inmate at Ngawha Prison Terrence Taiapo said there was nothing to prepare prisoners for integration in society after their release. Photo/John Stone
Former inmate at Ngawha Prison Terrence Taiapo said there was nothing to prepare prisoners for integration in society after their release. Photo/John Stone

Taiapo said prisoners wrote to the prison's management asking for various rehabilitation programmes to be reinstated and he even requested time after his release to talk to prisoners but was refused.

Ngapuhi elder 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.

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

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said he valued the Ombudsman's reports and that a lot of work has been undertaken since the inspection in February.

However, he did not agree with Boshier's assessment that the prison's relationship with the local iwi was fragile.

Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales said the recommendation that prisoners have unrestricted access to toilets at all times was rejected due to the need to maintain the safety and security of the prison by preventing prisoners from congregating in unsupervised areas without CCTV coverage.

While the recommendation was rejected, he said no prisoners were denied access to toilet facilities at the prison should they needed them.

Beales said prison management was actively working to re-establish relationships with iwi, with regular meetings taking place since November 2018.

Corrections has accepted 28 of the Chief Ombudsman's 31 recommendations.