Waikato, NZ: Prisoners riot

I June: Prisoners at Spring Hill prison in Waikato caused millions of dollars of damage in an 8-hour riot on Saturday.

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said the incident started just after 10am, when the 29 prisoners in the high-security unit suddenly became disruptive, aggressive and violent towards staff who were forced to retreat from the unit. It is understood the prisoners were then able to break into a storage facility housing sports equipment, including volleyball poles, which were then used as weapons. Cleaning products found in the storage area were used to light fires in the unit’s grounds and items including mattresses and blankets were burnt.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said “They bashed through into the guards’ areas, into the officers’ area, then they got all the records and the files and burnt all those.”

The riot was brought under control before 8pm on Saturday after large numbers of police, fire and prison staff were brought in to regain control of the devastated wing.

Three prison officers suffered injuries including a broken arm, dislocated shoulder and facial injuries.

Officials are blaming the riot on ‘gang rivalries’, but a friend of an inmate says that inmates were angry about a new lockdown regime.

The prisoners had 40 minutes to one hour each day for exercising outside of their cells, which included time to make phone calls to family. With a limited number of phones inside the prison, “the queues for them are always out the door”, she said. “It’s no good for their mental health being cooped up like that. All the guys are saying is just give us some breathing space.

“There had been rumblings for a couple of days before Saturday. When the prison officers went to put them into lockdown [on Saturday morning] the boys stood their ground and said ‘Come on mate, give us a little more time outside’.”

More than 115 prisoners have been relocated to other North Island prisons, including the 29 involved in the riot. Those involved in the riots are expected to face charges of arson and assault.

Meanwhile, as the riots went on at Spring Hill, there was another fire set inside Auckland Prison.

It is understood guards were sent to the Waikato prison while prisoners were placed on lockdown at the site formerly known as Paremoremo.

Fairfax Media were told restless prisoners locked the landing gate and set a fire, which prison officers struggled to get to.

Eventually a fire hose was poked through a grill and extinguished the small blaze. The Corrections Department acknowledged there had been “an incident” but would not discuss it further because it was thought to involve a single prisoner.

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