Spring Hill prison riot costs $10m

BELINDA FEEK
Last updated 15:35 29/05/2014

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Spring Hill prison inmates were drunk on home brew as they caused $10 million worth of damage, the Department of Corrections has confirmed.

A summary of its inquiry into the June 1, 2013 riot, reveals that the riot - the worst the country has seen in 15 years - began after prison staff discovered the homebrew in a prisoner's cell earlier in the morning.

The staff were assaulted before they were forced to evacuate due to the prisoners attack getting out of hand ''attacking the staff base with considerable force''.

By midday, up to 27 prisoners were out of control, damaging property and burning property from their cells and whatever else they could find in storerooms and the staff base.Corrections Chief Executive Ray Smith said 23 prisoners were charged with 41 offences.

Of the 23, eight have since pleaded guilty, and one was discharged. Four of the eight who pleaded guilty have been sentenced, with jail terms ranging up to five years and eight months. 

Smith said as there were still 14 prisoners before the court, the whole report into the riot won't be released until they're dealt with.

However, he confirmed the final cost to the Department for rebuilding - with security and safety enhancements - is about $10 million.

Smith said the inquiry concluded there were two key triggers of the riot: ''the availability and consumption of 'home brew' by prisoners and fighting between prisoners which led to staff being assaulted''.

The prisoner's access to ingredients to make the home brew - fruit, sugar, water and hand sanitiser - will now be reduced, Smith said.

That is one of 12 recommendations made by the inquiry team which also include that hand sanitisers and cleaning products used in prison are alcohol-free, limiting the amount of fruit that prisoners can access, reducing the numbers of high security prisoners held at Spring Hill, reviewing management of high security prisoners and reviewing and enhancing the capability, resources and equipment available to Advance Control and Restraint teams at the prison.

But Labour's Corrections spokesperson Jacinda Ardern said the report leaves more questions than answers.  

"Findings into last June's riot state the obvious - that responsibility for it lay with the prisoners. What is not so clear is the role double bunking in a purpose-built single cell facility played in the fracas."

There is no mention of the fact that 114 beds, from 72 cells, were out of use as a result of the riots.

Concerns around minimum entitlements also raise questions about staff resourcing, and whether or not an excessive 'lockdown' regime, due to insufficient staff, exacerbated the situation.Spring Hill is one of the country's biggest prisons with about 1100 beds and around 440 staff.

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It was built in 2007 at a cost of $380m.

- Waikato Times

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