Staff at fault in prison protest

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 11:12 13/07/2013

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Manawatu Prison staff copped some blame for a rooftop drama in which a protesting inmate and his friend camped out for more than a day.

And fellow inmates who helped the two roof refugees faced internal disciplinary action.

While they were in a prison yard on December 12, Robert James Richards, 27, and Matthew Joseph Thomas, 23, clambered up to a roof and refused to come down for more than a day.

A summary of a Corrections report into the standoff, released to the Manawatu Standard under the Official Information Act, says: "Staff had not followed some processes relating to searching prisoners before they entered the yard, and physical security checks of the yard."

As a result, prison staff received "additional training around the management of complex incidents".

The incident began at 2.50pm on December 12, when prison officers spotted Richards and Thomas climbing the wall, helped by three other inmates.

"The two prisoners accessed a roof area before staff were able to intervene," the report says. Ten minutes later a "code red" was called and the area was "cordoned and contained".

After negotiations, the prisoners safely surrendered about 7pm on December 13.

Richards and Thomas were reclassified as maximum security prisoners and moved to Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, while the three inmates who helped them faced internal misconduct charges under the internal prison court system overseen by a justice of the peace.

"The review found that the overall management of the incident was to a very high standard . . . The review also found that one of the prisoners initiated the incident as a form of protest after he was denied a phone call and advised that he was to be transferred to another prison."

Corrections deputy national commissioner Maria McDonald would not say which prisoner searching processes were not followed. "We consider it a security risk to release further information about processes regarding prisoner searching and how we manage prisoners."

While on the roof, Richards and Thomas smashed a security camera and damaged razor wire.

They each admitted wilful damage charges and in court were sentenced to one month's prison on top of their present sentences and ordered to pay $820 reparation.

The Palmerston North District Court heard that both prisoners were confined to their cells for 14 days and then spent some months in Auckland before returning to Manawatu Prison. Their lawyer, Tony Thackery, said the Paremoremo prison was restrictive, and spending time there was a penalty in itself.

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On the second day of the drama, a no-fly zone was brought into play above the prison up to 1500 feet.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said it was introduced after a police request "due to safety of aircraft operations".

- Manawatu Standard

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