COVID-19 and the mass incarceration of Indigenous peoples


  • Paula King Te Rōpu Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pōmare, University of Otago
  • Donna Cormack Te Kupenga Hauora Māori, The University of Auckland
  • Rawiri Keenan


Indigenous peoples, Māori, incarceration, prisons, detention, COVID-19


Similar to experiences of Indigenous peoples globally, Māori in the nation-state known as New Zealand (NZ) have been subjected to mass incarceration by the colonial state. Places of detention are dangerous environments for the spread of COVID-19. We are deeply concerned about the potential for disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on Māori and other Indigenous peoples within these environments as many have health conditions and/or multiple comorbidities compounding the risks of severe illness and death from COVID-19. We call for the NZ government to honour te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations and uphold Indigenous rights contained within the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international rights instruments. A whole-of-government commitment to an equitable public health approach is required to: 1) rapidly reduce the numbers of Māori in sites of detention; 2) implement effective, timely, evidenced informed measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19, in line with World Health Organization recommendations; 3) prevent the torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detained Māori during COVID-19; and, 4) eliminate double-celling. Although focused on NZ, the themes we highlight are likely of relevance for Indigenous peoples across the globe in our collective resistance to the COVID-19 pandemic.


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