The Government has approved $1.35 million be paid to prisoners and staff at Waikeria Prison who lost belongings after a fire broke out during protests and riots over New Year.
Cabinet papers released today reveal Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis seeking approval for the ex-gratia payments, including up to $1.3m for the more than 800 prisoners who lost possessions and up to $50,000 for up to 190 staff.
None of the 17 prisoners who have been charged in relation to the riot would receive any payment.
The six-day stand-off started on the afternoon of December 29 when some of the 21 men in the prison's yard lit fires.
The rioters then made their way to the roof of the 100-year-old "top jail" and fashioned tools to get others out of their cells through the windows.
About 200 men had to be evacuated from the top jail as the fires threatened their safety.
Advocates said inmates were protesting against unhygienic and dehumanising conditions - claims denied by Corrections.
Payments totalling about $21,000 had already been paid, including about $100 to 193 prisoners who had to be evacuated from the top jail, many of whom were relocated to other prison sites.
From 686 of the 844 prisoners, 17,622 items had been identified to have been destroyed, at an estimated value of $700,000. It was likely to be "substantially more" after the final count.
These were all items that people had on them when they arrived at Waikeria Prison.
"The more commonly stored items included cell phones, wallets, identification, jewellery, clothing and accessories," the paper said.
"There are also items of sentimental emotional, spiritual, cultural or religious value, such as taonga, that are inherently difficult to value."
So far 24 staff had made claims for property that was stored in the top jail. These claims total about $19,000.
The paper states Corrections has no legal obligation to compensate prisoners and staff for their loss. It did not cause the loss of prisoner or staff personal property.
Therefore compensation was inappropriate. However, Corrections could still make an ex gratia payment to prisoners and staff.
"Government departments are authorised to make ex gratia payments, which are made out of goodwill or a sense of moral obligation, rather than being required by law."
In the paper, Davis said making an ex gratia payment would align with the strategy Hōkai Rangi and "support oranga and wellbeing".
It would lessen impacts of the property loss, and align with international guidance around the property of prisoners."
"This is a unique situation and the prisoners who lost property, irrespective of the criminal offending that may have brought them into the corrections system, are not at fault in this situation.
"They played no part in the riot and were compliant throughout it. They have suffered loss simply because they had property in storage at Waikeria Prison."
The payments were approved at a Cabinet meeting on May 17.
Act Leader David Seymour said the payments were "making criminals the priority in our justice system".
"This is the consequence-free culture under the Ardern Government. The wrong people are getting the aroha."
National's Corrections spokesman Simeon Brown said the payments should not have come about because the riots should not have happened in the first place.
"These are the consequences for a Corrections Minister who lost control of a prison."
"We are yet to find out the total cost to the taxpayer for Minister Davis' serious mishandling of the event."
Davis revealed today in Select Committee that the insurance payout will not cover the demolition of the prison.
"The bill could balloon even more when everything is tallied up," Brown said.
Each of the prisoners involved in the riots had filed a claim in the High Court at Wellington against the Attorney-General and the chief executive of Corrections for breaches of their civil rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, the Corrections Act 2004, and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) 2015.
Fourteen of the prisoners who were Māori had also filed claims against the Crown in the Waitangi Tribunal.