Riot prisoners 'want less time stuck in cells'

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 04/06/2013

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An excessive "lockdown" regime introduced by the managers of the Spring Hill Corrections Facility was the reason for the riot at the prison on Saturday, a friend of an inmate says.

Prison authorities have pointed to gang involvement and possible inter-gang tensions as the likely cause for the riot, which caused millions of dollars' in damage and nearly destroyed one of the officer's areas in the northern Waikato prison.

However, Hamilton woman Kylie Murray, a close friend of one of the inmates in a high-security wing, said he had told her those inside were dismayed on hearing gangs were being blamed.

Ms Murray contacted The Waikato Times on behalf of her friend yesterday, saying the inmates at Spring Hill were eager for "the truth" to get out.

The prisoners had 40 minutes to one hour each day for exercising outside of their cells, which included time to make phone calls to family.

With a limited number of phones inside the prison, "the queues for them are always out the door", she said.

"It's no good for their mental health being cooped up like that. All the guys are saying is just give us some breathing space.

"There had been rumblings for a couple of days before Saturday. When the prison officers went to put them into lockdown [on Saturday morning] the boys stood their ground and said 'Come on mate, give us a little more time outside'."

Ms Murray said she had been helping her friend, who had been convicted on charges of historical rape, with some legal advice for a planned appeal.

Saturday's eight-hour standoff with prison staff turned violent soon after 10am. Cleaning products were used to light fires while sports equipment, including volleyball poles, were broken down and used as weapons by rampaging prisoners.

The riot was brought under control before 8pm on Saturday night after large numbers of police, fire service and prison staff were brought in to regain control of the devastated wing.

Three prison officers suffered injuries, including a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder.

Department of Corrections senior media adviser Chris Wright said he had not heard that lack of time outside of the cells was being touted as how the riot started.

However, it was too early to begin speculating on the cause.

"We are at an investigation phase, not a speculation phase. We would not be speculating so far out from the investigation being completed.

"I have not heard that [about the lockdowns]. That does not mean it is not true."

Mr Wright said people needed to remember that when fire, police and prison staff entered the prison at the height of the riot it was chaotic and dangerous, with some prisoners running wild.

Careful analysis of what happened throughout the day was the immediate priority.

"Addressing the causes of what happened will come in the next few weeks."

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- Waikato Times

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