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Waikeria: Protesting inmate 'assaulted by others' before surrendering, Waititi, Brown call for action from Davis

Newshub logo Newshub 1/01/2021 Jamie Ensor, Karen Rutherford
Kelvin Davis wearing a suit and tie: Watch: Māori MP Rawiri Waititi offers to negotiate with Waikeria Prison rioters. © Video - Newshub; Image - Getty. Watch: Māori MP Rawiri Waititi offers to negotiate with Waikeria Prison rioters.

A protesting Waikeria Prison inmate who surrendered on Thursday was assaulted by other prisoners who wanted to stop him leaving, according to the Department of Corrections.

It comes as Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi calls on the Minister of Corrections to step in and resolve the situation at the Waikato jail after the MP met with inmates.

Smoke is still rising from the century-old 'top jail' where 16 inmates remain defiant in their protest against Corrections. It’s now four days since the standoff over conditions at Waikeria began.

Prison guards patrolling the perimeter of the now burnt-out facility have set up a tent, but none of the 16 "non-compliant" inmates can be seen on the roof.

Corrections on Friday said that a prisoner who surrendered to staff on Thursday was "assaulted by the others" before leaving the facility and that other protesting inmates "attempted to prevent him from leaving". 

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"The prisoners continued to light fires last night and cause further damage. They have also thrown objects at Corrections staff patrolling the area," a spokesperson said.

"Yesterday the prisoners agreed with negotiators to surrender if they were able to speak with kaumatua. This was facilitated however did not resolve the situation.

"Later in the day the prisoners committed to surrendering if they could speak with MP Rawiri Waititi. This was also facilitated and did not resolve the situation."

Waititi, who entered Parliament in 2020 after winning the seat of Waiariki, rushed to the Waikato prison on New Year's Eve after being contacted by the prisoners.

A "Waikeria Uprising" manifesto purportedly released on Thursday by the prisoners to group People Against Prisoners Aotearoa states that the inmates are "protesting" their alleged treatment in the jail. 

A source previously told Newshub that inmates wait months for medical treatment and use the same towel and dirty clothes for weeks. 

Waititi on Friday said it was time for Kelvin Davis, the Minister of Corrections, to get involved. 

"The Minister for Corrections championed the same issue in 2015 when he visited Christmas Island to advocate for prisoners who were subjected to similar conditions as our men at Waikeria," the co-leader said.

He visited the prison after being "invited by our brothers" and described the men as "at their wits end".

"I was invited to listen and that’s exactly what I did. They are clear that this is not a riot, it is a protest for their human rights for all inmates past and present.

"They are protesting for their right to basic human needs. The environment in Waikeria prison is dehumanising. The water they are expected to drink is brown. They don’t get clothing or appropriate bedding. They are expected to wash their clothes in the yard shower."

Waititi said resources should be "devolved to Māori to design and implement by Māori for Māori approaches, things are going to get worse".

"For a Government who prides itself on kindness, they have allowed for an inhumane environment to fester. They are willingly allowing for breaches of basic human rights to occur. They need to sort it out now," he said.

"We need to resolve this immediately for the safety of all involved; for the whānau in prison and for the whānau working in the prison".

Corrections has been contacted for a response while Davis won't be commenting until the situation is resolved.

Simeon Brown, National's Corrections spokesperson, wants a full investigation into the situation.

"Waikeria Prison has suffered significant damage from this riot, which has forced Corrections to move hundreds of prisoners around the country to keep them safe," he said on Friday.

“An independent investigation must be undertaken into how this riot started and whether the response to it has been adequate."

He called on Davis to "show some leadership" and visit the prison to "make sure those trying to resolve this situation have all the support they need".

"It is hard to believe this riot has been allowed to continue for four days. Control of the prison must be regained swiftly to prevent any further damage.

"I want to send my appreciation to all the Corrections staff and emergency service personnel involved in responding to the riot. Their wellbeing is critical in these difficult situations."

The Department of Corrections said on Friday that "highly trained staff with specialist skills [...] are continuing to negotiate with the prisoners involved, supported by Police".

"We are not going to speculate on matters that are relevant to those negotiations. Fire and Emergency NZ, Police and St John remain at the prison and are working closely with Corrections staff.

"We are grateful to them for their assistance, and also to the many Corrections staff who have responded bravely and professionally despite very challenging circumstances."

Around 200 prisoners were evacuated from the 'top jail' facility on Wednesday due to concerns for their safety and well being.

"Following the reduction in the prison population we have capacity across the prison network to enable this to happen.

"The men who have been moved are being provided with support to contact their family members. Mental health support is also being made available to them as a number have found the events of the last 48 hours traumatic. 

"We will be looking to prioritise their reengagement with education, employment and rehabilitation activities that have been interrupted as a result of the incident. 

"It is incredibly disappointing that the safety, wellbeing and progress of these men have been compromised by the actions of a small group."

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