Waikeria Prison riot: Government approves $1.35m payment to prisoners, staff for property

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.

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.”

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