30 Dec 2020

Waikeria prison riot: 'Significant' damage after fires lit, prisoners on roof

10:10 am on 30 December 2020

Prisoners at Waikeria Prison in Waikato continue to riot, with 16 still non-compliant.

Waikeria prison

Waikeria prison Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

The Corrections Department said last night 19 prisoners were seen on the roof, including some who were lighting fires in the yard.

Four prisoners have since surrendered.

The movement of the prisoners inside the building is restricted by internal gates, barriers and secured doors.

Corrections said late last night that smoke around the building was coming from mattresses set alight.

Negotiations are ongoing with the inmates and Corrections said "specialist advanced control and restraint teams" have been brought in to help.

"Damage to the 'top jail' facility appears to be significant," a spokesperson said this morning.

The condition of the building is still to be assessed but they said prisoners are unlikely to be housed there again.

"The facility was built in 1911 and is being replaced by a new facility being built at the prison which is scheduled to open in 2022."

They said for safety reasons last night 49 prisoners had been evacuated. Overnight, a further 163 men were temporarily moved to other locations within the prison.

"Throughout these movements the men were calm and compliant and understood that their safety and wellbeing was our top priority. The remainder of the prison, which is spread over a large rural area, was also calm," the spokesperson said.

Prison staff will meet with their union representatives at Waikeria Prison this morning, to discuss the riot.

The Corrections Association says the situation is concerning, and the union is offering support to its members.

Dr Rawiri Waretini-Karena is an independent adviser to the Department of Corrections, and in 1986 he was a prisoner in Waikeria Prison, when a riot broke out.

He told Morning Report when he was there education was limited and there was no access to anything kaupapa Māori.

"This guy, his name is Marcus Garvey, he's a philosopher, and he says that people without knowledge of their cultural identity or heritage, they're like a tree without roots, they're not grounded in their identity or their culture."

He said in the prison system he had seen a lot of men who did not know where they came from.

Waretini-Karena said he would be advising Corrections to treat the prisoners with dignity during negotiations.

"In spite of all the best policies, you can still have hiccups," he said.

Built in 1911 and known as 'top jail', the building is the oldest at the site south of Te Awamutu.

The lobby group People Against Prisons has previously warned that a riot at Waikeria was inevitable, because of what it calls 'dangerous' housing conditions.