Waikeria Prison sixteen surrender
The stand-off at Waikeria Prison has ended today after the prisoners surrendered.
At approximately midday today, the 16 prisoners were escorted out by Rawiri Waititi, MP for Waiariki and co-leader of the Māori Party.
“The prisoner disorder event at Waikeria Prison is over, with all remaining prisoners now safely and securely detained,” says Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis.
The majority of those involved in the event are members of the Mongols and Comancheros. Five of the men are deportees from Australia, with three subject to returning offender orders because of their criminal convictions.
The group has destroyed the ‘top jail’ facility at Waikeria Prison, rendering it unusable.
Responsibility for laying charges in relation to the destruction of the facility is with the Police.
A world-leading new high-security prison with a first-of-its-kind mental health facility is currently being built at Waikeria Prison and will open in 2022.
“The arson, violence and destruction carried out by these men were reckless criminal acts that put themselves, other prisoners, Corrections staff and emergency services in danger,” says Davis.
“I want to thank all those involved for bringing this incident to a close, especially the Corrections staff who responded to the initial incident and worked to secure the site and prevent the other prisoners getting injured.
“I especially want to thank tangata whenua and local kaumatua who played an important role in negotiations with the group and who helped to end this situation peacefully.”
Waititi says the prisoners were protesting their maltreatment in prison.
“As previously expressed, I have had constant contact with the whānau involved in this protest and they were adamant that they would only surrender with me present to ensure that no injury occurred to any officers or protesters,” says Waititi.
“I arrived at Waikeria at 9.30am after travelling through the night at the request of the sixteen.”
“I want to take this opportunity to mihi to the boys, first and foremost for standing up to fight for their rights and secondly for making the right decision to surrender.
“They were ready to come down. Naturally, they were tired and hungry but still very determined to see change.
“They have achieved what they set out to do when they embarked on bringing attention to their maltreatment in Prison.”
Corrections earlier warned the situation had become “incredibly volatile”.
“We know that there are tensions between members of the group, they have access to weapons and they may have taken drugs from the dispensary," Corrections incident controller Jeanette Burns said in a statement.
“The prisoners have continued to light fires within the facility overnight, make threats towards our staff and police and throw debris at them from the roof of the buildings,” says Burns.
“The burned buildings were also at risk of collapse, or the materials could be toxic.”
Davis expressed thanks to all those involved in supporting Corrections.
“I’d also like to extend my gratitude to members of the Police, Ambulance, and Fire and Emergency services who responded alongside Corrections staff and provided them with support and assistance to deal with this situation,” says Davis.
“There are many legitimate avenues for prisoners to raise concerns about their conditions, including through the independent Corrections Inspectorate and the Office of the Ombudsman. These prisoners used none of those avenues and never raised any issues prior to this event.
“No one should glorify the actions of these prisoners. They damaged property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and they put their own lives and the health and safety of staff and other prisoners at risk.
“There is never an excuse for resorting to violence and destruction,” says Davis.
The Minister has instructed Corrections to undertake a comprehensive review into how the situation was able to evolve and escalate to the extent it did and report their findings back to him.
“They will also assess the damage done to the prison, but no one is expected to return to the ‘top jail’ facility,” says Davis.
“Throughout the incident I received regular briefings, hourly most days. It was important to leave the containment of the riot to Corrections staff who are highly trained with specialist skills in managing such events and have clear operational guidelines for how to respond.
“These men wanted political attention, and unfortunately those who waded into the issue in order to generate headlines only helped to embolden them, extend the duration of the event, and increase the risk to safety,” says Davis.
“I made the decision not to bow to the demands of these men nor make public comment that would have simply opened up political negotiation with them and achieved nothing to bring the event to a safe resolution.
“Our Government is committed to improving the situation for prisoners in New Zealand, including investing $98 million to work in partnership with whanau, hapū and iwi to reduce the rates of Maori reoffending; ditching the American-style mega prison planned by the previous National Government at Waikeria; giving mental health and addiction services for offenders a $128 million boost and launching ‘Hōkai Rangi’, a new strategy designed to address the long-term challenge of Māori reoffending and imprisonment.
“We have also safely reduced the prison population by 20 per cent since it peaked in March 2018,” says Davis.
“These initiatives represent a major change in direction for our Corrections system and this takes time, but we are making good progress on our plan.”