Waikeria Prison rioters surrender after six-day stand-off

The 16 inmates who overran Waikeria Prison last week have finally surrendered.

The men surrendered about noon, Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi announced in a statement about 1pm today.

Waititi arrived at the prison this morning after travelling through the night to meet the 16 inmates after they asked to speak with him, he said.

“They were ready to come down,” Waititi said. “Naturally, they were tired and hungry but still very determined to see change.

The group had been evading capture on the jail’s roof after starting a riot and lighting damaging fires in the prison yard on Tuesday afternoon.

They had been making threats at staff and police, throwing debris at them from the roof of the buildings.

The majority of those involved in the event were members of the Mongols and Comancheros gangs, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said today.

Five of the men were deportees from Australia, with three subject to returning offender orders because of their criminal convictions.

It’s the first time Davis has commented on the six-day uprising.

“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.”

The group had destroyed the ‘top jail’ facility at Waikeria Prison, rendering it unusable, he said

Responsibility for laying charges in relation to the destruction of the facility is with the police, Davis’ statement said.

“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,” Davis said.

The inmates were protesting about a number of things, from their water reportedly being brown, bedding being unclean, and being fed food from paper bags.

Waititi, the MP for Waiariki, says people must serve the time for their crimes but they deserve to be treated in a humane way.

“Even prison guards acknowledged to us that the state of the unit was unacceptable,” he said.

“They have achieved what they set out to do when they embarked on bringing attention to their maltreatment in prison.

“When injustice is normalised, defiance and protest is necessary. These men are the product of such injustices and through their protest they have changed the face Corrections forever.

“These men are not animals, they are humans; they are brothers, fathers and sons and are deserving of better treatment.

“If you treat a person like a dog, they will act like one and that is the saddest part of this whole saga; a failed criminal justice system adopted from a land 19,000 kilometres away.”

Much of the prison is now inhabitable, after the rioters destroyed more than a third of Waikeria’s bedding capacity by midweek.

The Department of Corrections revealed today it was concerned about the structural integrity of the burned buildings, saying there was potential for them to collapse.

Waititi thanked the authorities involved in the stand-off for allowing him to be involved in the surrender of the prisoners.

“Allowing me to go in proves that when we drop the red tape, treat our people with dignity and allow for us as Māori to deal with our own in a Māori way, we succeed,” he said.

Corrections has been contacted for comment.

The Government was directing queries to the office of Kelvin Davis.

The minister’s press secretary Rob Johnson shortly before 1pm said he hadn’t seen the Māori Party statement.

Waititi’s spokesman Keanu Flavell said he was about to be briefed on the situation at 1pm.

Critics of Davis claim the minister has been conspicuously absent since the crisis erupted five days ago.

The last major New Zealand prison riot was at Spring Hill in 2013 but it was resolved within nine hours, paling in comparison to the Waikeria unrest.

The Waikeria unrest is the longest and potentially most destructive at any New Zealand jail for decades.

It’s not immediately clear how much the chaos will cost taxpayers, but the Spring Hill riot in 2013 caused $10million in damage.

A Corrections report into the Spring Hill riot found inmates got drunk on home brew that prison’s management team was divided and dysfunctional.

At the time, Corrections said the Spring Hill disturbance was the biggest, most destructive case of “concerted indiscipline” in any jail in the 21st Century.

This week’s Waikeria riots – or protests – dwarf other prison disturbances in recent years.
At Ngawha prison near Kaikohe in Northland in 2012, a riot squad was deployed after inmates damaged cells and lit fires.

An Ombudsman’s report released in August 2020 found conditions at Waikeria in some case failed to meet minimum UN standards.

The Ombudsman found meal times across the prison did not reflect usual meal times, and many inmates voiced concern about water quality.

Some cells were run-down, with chunks of vinyl missing from floors, some windows did not have curtains and toilets did not have lids.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand executive director Meg de Ronde saidJohn Tamihere arrived about an hour ago and it appeared he had gained access inside.

There had been a large number of former prisoners and current Mongrel Mob members outside the prison in support, she said.

They have just shaken hands and headed off, she said.

“I’m currently looking at a large Tino Rangatiratanga flag which has been flying.”

People outside were relieved, but there had also been comment of “we’ll believe it when we see it”, she said.

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