Outside the Waikeria Prison today where inmates clash with guards. Photo / Michael Craig
Prisoners who have been strained with guards at Waikeria Prison are now believed to have full control of the wing.
The Herald understands all obedient inmates have been removed from the wing where 16 inmates have lit fires and hurled projectiles at guards who couldn’t get close enough to end the hostage taking.
The prison remains in isolation today, nearly 24 hours after a group of inmates mutinied and started lighting a fire yesterday afternoon.
It is understood that most of the wings were badly damaged by fire.
This morning’s correction said that four of the 19 inmates had surrounded overnight, but the prison was badly damaged and could not possibly be used to house any more inmates.
Drama started yesterday in the prison practice yard around 2pm, and then moved to the rooftop, where the inmates burned the mattress.
A source told the Herald that the rebellion started after the inmates were denied a haircut, but Correction was unable to confirm this until they spoke to “affected prisoners”.
Further information is expected to be released about the situation at a press conference this afternoon.
Correction said 16 detainees remained within safe limits on the roof of one building, the so-called “upper prison unit”.
One source told the Herald that the prisoners had thrown projectiles at prison guards – wood, metal and anything else they could tear from the damaged roof.
As a result, the police were too dangerous to get too close to the prisoners. So far no one has been hurt.
The source said there was a slight risk of the detainees running away because there were two guardrails – electric and wire – and those fences were being patrolled by correctional staff.
The weather was hot and sunny, so the source said it was hoped the prisoners would become “hot and hungry” and turn themselves in.
Correction said there were no fatalities or injuries to staff or detainees. NZ Fire and Emergency, Police and St John remain in prison and work closely with Corrections staff.
A Corrections spokesman said the damaged part of the building was still burning hours after the fire started. It was not safe to try to extinguish the flames while the rioting continued, he said.
“At this stage the fire has not been put out. Obviously we need to wait for the disobedient prisoners to be brought under control before we can send fire and emergency to fully assess the situation and control it,” he said. .
“We are not sure how widespread the fire is at this stage, but several parts were burned, including the mattress that was burned,” he said.
A faint stream of smoke could still be seen floating from one end of the prison facility.
While the condition of the building needs to be assessed, it is unlikely that detainees will be accommodated there again, Correction said in a statement. The facility was built in 1911 and replaced by a new prison scheduled to open there in 2022.
Correction described the prisoners behind the rebellion as “disobedient”.
Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis declined to comment while the situation in prison remains unresolved.
Last night, 49 inmates were evacuated from the riot sector facility to another unit in the prison. Overnight 163 people were temporarily transferred to other locations within the prison, the spokesman said.
The flow of prisoner vans with tinted windows continued their exit from the facility this afternoon.
The Specialist Advanced Control and Control Team, made up of staff from various prisons, is in the prison, where the inmates have been out of control since Tuesday afternoon.
Photos emailed to NZME late at night showed huge smoke clouds visible from neighboring farmland.
Police, firefighters and St John confirmed that they were still at the scene as Correctional Officers continued to try to negotiate with the inmates and ensure the safety of everyone in the prison.
A spokesman said yesterday that 19 prisoners were seen on the roof of the building. This includes those who were involved in lighting fires in the courtyard today, along with several other people who were able to get out of their cells.
“Prisoners can access some parts of the building by penetrating the roof space, but their movement inside the building is restricted by internal gates, barriers and secure doors.
“There was a lot of smoke around the building, coming from the mattress the prisoners burned.”
“There are about 230 prisoners in total in the ‘top prison’ facility and we will not hesitate to evacuate further detainees if necessary to keep them safe.”
FENZ was initially summoned to Waikeria after inmates lit several fires in the prison’s practice yard on Tuesday afternoon.
About 20 prisoners were using the courtyard at the time.
The situation was thought to be under control before the nine detainees refused to comply with the instructions, Newshub reported.
The perpetrators allegedly removed the toilet door from their hinges and used it as a weapon against staff.
Correctional Association President Alan Whitley said the union is offering support.
“We are always concerned about people when situations like this occur, but we have a special team that has special training, they are professional people and they will do a professional job to control the situation,” Whitley told RNZ.
St John treated a number of staff and inmates for smoke inhalation. Earlier in the evening, it was thought that at least one inmate was bleeding after an argument with guards.
One detained inmate said riots in the prison were imminent, with inmates protesting for human rights. They claim there are problems in the prison, including toilet paper that is taking days, Newshub reports.
Last year, two Waikeria Prison Correction officers were punched in the face within days, while clashes between prisoners have also been reported.
An inmate punched an officer in the face and another officer was also injured when he stepped in to help.
The fight occurred after an officer was threatened and punched a few days earlier.
There have also been previous reports of inmates fighting amongst themselves.
The Waikeria Prison is one of New Zealand’s largest prisons, located on a 1,200ha site south of Te Awamutu in the Waikato region.
The “top prison” where inmates currently reside were built in 1911 and are the oldest part of the prison. It was replaced by a new facility under construction at the prison and which is slated to open in 2022.