Waatea News Column: Let’s be honest, we are torturing prisoners and many are Maori


The revelation that prisoners held in solitary confinement have surged 78% since Labour came to power highlights how toxic our prison culture has become.

This despite a 2017 UN report that said NZ used solitary confinement at rates four times higher than England and that Māori were more likely to face it.

The Chief Ombudsman has launched yet another report looking into the use of solitary confinement but we don’t need another report to understand that the use of solitary as a punishment actually amounts to torture.

Human Beings are social animals, depriving us of social interaction can drive humans mad, sick and depressed.

What we are doing here is using punishment techniques that damage the prisoners even more in an environment of violence and total control.

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This is not only an immoral technique, it exacerbates a counterproductive prison environment where prisoners are released more damaged than when they went in!

This toxic neoliberal punishment culture desperately needs to be replaced by Tikanga values in the same way Oranga Tamariki was taken over.

Prisoners would benefit far more from values based on Māori culture than sterile Pākehā bureaucracy.

First published on Waatea News.


  1. Why add the last line to the intro. These prisoners are all people and whatever race they are should be treated the same .
    The real question is why is it worse under Labour.
    So many of your commentators suggest Nats are evil and now the good guys are in power. The lack of care about the social ills we are living with now shows how many have been blinded by the fairy dust from on high.
    I believe Labour and National supporters are all the same caring people that want answers to the same problems but see the path to get there differently . The problem lies with those that become our leaders and this is copied around the World by leaders that start of with good intent but then become the dictator .Few seem to be uncorrupted by power . It is up to the little people to remind those in power why they are there.

  2. “Prisoners would benefit far more from values based on Māori culture than sterile Pākehā bureaucracy.”
    Hang on while I try to agree more…? Nope. Can’t do it.
    I was turned into a criminal when I was six years old.
    I was kept back from Te Tipua country school until I was six most likely because my father would have thought I was far too embarrassingly stupid for him to send me to school at five. I could read well before I went to school which made me even dumber in his eyes. Some sperm donors aye?
    I remember the day I was turned into a criminal. I was sitting beside a small, sickly, chronic scab picker who smelled like wet mouldy hay but he had an awesome pen shaped like a rocket so I borrowed it. I took it off his desk right in front of him and put it on my desk. There? That looked better.
    Mr Styles, the teacher, witnessed the dastardly act and dragged me up to the front of the class room by shirt collar and demanded from his inflamed, spittle rimmed mouth hole to ” hold my hands out!” which I did. I thought I was getting a lolly? Or a chip? Or a new note book? Instead, I got strapped across the left hand three times, then three more times on my right hand. Imagine my surprise?
    It was a standard issue strap made from heavy cow hide and some of you may remember the weight of it.
    The first whack was always the worst because the other two were dampened down by the numbness induced by the first. But then, there were the other three on the other hand… ( Can I proudly say? Those fuckers never got a single tear out of me. )
    I wobbled back to my desk and sat down in a state of shock. My smelly wee neighbour and intergalactic space explorer was in tears and asked if I’d like to share his rocket pen with him.
    My Styles took first blood. I pissed on his office floor, I jammed potatoes up the school bus exhaust pipe he’d also drive and the things I did with shit? You’d be surprised and impressed.
    Sadly, he wasn’t the last of the sadistic, rural school, child abuser teachers that set me on the course I comfortably remain upon. The only thing that perhaps saved them from, shall we say, more agricultural reprisals was the memory of a forgiving wee kid with his rocket shaped pen.
    Commit a crime? Go to jail. Whatever. If you’re a criminal who’s a danger to the freak show we think of as ‘society’ then we beige consumers must be protected from you. I get that. But once in jail, you get tortured ? I don’t get that. If a prisoner is treated well, is offered an education, is in a cell that’s larger and is well appointed? Is given good food with a choice of diet, who can read and watch film and can use a computer and is encouraged to re acquaint themselves with their innate humanness so that when they get out they’re already a part of society. Not a victim of it.
    The only thing prisons do well is line the pockets of the insurers, lawyers and cops.

  3. I agree Martyn, but without supporting data statistics can be misleading. Does the report give a break-down as to why solitary confinement is being used (punishment or lack of staff/facilities). To me ‘solitary’ is only justfiable for short periods for anger management – beyond that it will always be detrimental to future behaviour. Like you say “solitary as a punishment actually amounts to torture”.

  4. Solitary confinement surged 78% since Labour came to power?
    Kelvin Davis Minister of Corrections?
    Large numbers of Maori in caucus?
    How is that sterile Pakeha bureaucracy?

  5. I sympathize with political prisoners or those convicted of a victimless crime but the guy who bludgeons his partner to death can rot in his cell for all I care, isolated for ever if necessary. Here in Taranaki the cops tend to let prisoners drown in their own sick and piss during their stay (Stuff, 2021), our intersectional police shedding tears of self pity when their negligence is exposed but ultimately dismissed in court. In the U.S. prisons are looking at using methods from the Holocaust to isolate prisoners permanently (Washington Post, 2021).

    Stuff. (2021). Taranaki police officers charged with manslaughter knew victim had suicidal thoughts, did not know he had taken prescription drugs. Retrieved from

    Washington Post. (2021). Arizona plans to execute prisoners with a lethal gas the Nazis used at Auschwitz. Retrieved from

  6. What would you suggest they do to prisoners that intimidate/stand over/assault and generally cause havoc among other prisoners that are just trying to do their lag and go home? I know… put them into separate jails and give them bigger cells and better conditions, allow them extra visits and home visits, Give them access to programs that others can’t get and generally treat them better than the prisoner they abuse. that’ll learn em.


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