The young inmates of Ngāwhā prison's Kea Unit beat a team of police officers from around the Mid North in a first-to-three volleyball tournament on Friday.

It was a close contest, both sides winning two games apiece before the prisoners clinched the final and the coveted trophy, carved three years ago by Kea inmates.

After a shared meal the prisoners awarded certificates for everything from most improved player (stand up Kaeo's Constable Joe Wright) to best spikes and player of the day, and performed a rousing haka for their opponents.

Kea team captain Michael (not his real name) said the tournament was a "cool experience".

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"The main objective was to get together, working with each other instead of against each other. It also gives us ties to Northland police when we get out, so we've got someone to talk to," he said.

Having lost the trophy, the police were talking up their chances of winning it back in a touch rugby tournament in November, but Michael said the prisoners were determined to retain it.

Another prisoner, who led the whakatau for the police, and the haka, which he had learned while in Kea Unit, said the tournament had changed his view of police.

"Cops aren't all how I saw them on the outside. They're actually good people, and it's cool to get to know them," he said.

Organiser Mark Taylor, a senior constable in Kawakawa police, said the games had been hard-fought, but the prisoners deserved their win.

"The goal is interaction between police and the young fellows in there, to let them know this is who we are. We aren't just uniforms, we're people too," he said.

"Now when they get out they know they can come and ask us questions, and we can offer guidance in the outside world if they require it."

Acting prison director Michael Rongo said some of the prisoners were anxious about interacting with police, and worried they'd be recognised.

"A lot of these young men only ever engage with police when something bad happens. As a result they have some barriers, some resistance to authority," he said.

"This is about breaking those barriers down and seeing police in a different light, showing they are human."