Cheering inmates riot at prison

By Joanne Carroll, John Weekes

Five hurt, including three prison officers, as inmates trash prison during nine-hour siege at Spring Hill.

About 100 inmates have been relocated to other prisons around the country as abandoned cell blocks of the Spring Hill jail where rioters caused chaos yesterday are investigated.

The rioting inmates smiled and waved at cameras as they caused what is suspected to be millions of dollars worth of damage to one of the country's biggest prisons.

Twenty-seven Spring Hill maximum security prisoners rampaged for nearly nine hours, setting fire to two cell blocks and smashing cells with makeshift weapons. Three Corrections officers and two prisoners were injured.

It's understood that those prisoners involved in the riot have been moved to a more secure location at another prison.

The other inmates in the cell blocks where the riots happened have also been moved to other prisons as police, fire and Corrections investigators examine the scene.
Last night Corrections Minister Anne Tolley blamed the violence on notorious gang the Killer Beez.

"It's nothing to do with prison conditions. I understand it is all to do with politics within the gangs," she said.

"I understand the Killer Beez were involved and they are a nasty piece of work. They don't care. I have no sympathy for them. They have put lives at risk," she said.

The prisoners took control of Unit 16A - the same block where guard Jason Palmer was killed by a Killer Beez member in 2010 - about 11am.

St John Ambulance staff, reportedly called to treat a stabbed inmate, encountered chaotic scenes and were forced to retreat.

The inmates began throwing mattresses and rubbish on to pyres in a courtyard and forced Corrections staff away. Eyewitnesses saw plumes of smoke billowing from two cell blocks near Hampton Downs, 68km south of Auckland.

Corrections officers were brought in from as far away as Northland to join the armed police and dog squads in trying to quell the riot.

Aerial footage showed debris strewn across a yard while smoke billowed into the sky. Prisoners appeared to celebrate as they waved at cameras with wooden stakes.
In a phone call to 3 News, one prisoner gloated about causing "chaos" and "carnage" ... "I think he's going to burn a cell down. Yes he is, yes he is."

The rioters were eventually brought under control just after 8pm.

Prisoners not involved in the violence were moved from the high security wing amid fears the cell block would collapse.

Inmates were expected to face charges of arson and assault.

The fires were expected to cost taxpayers several million dollars. Completed in 2007, the prison's construction costs had ballooned to more than $380 million - or $373,280 for each of the 1018 prisoners it holds.

Last night prison reformers said warning signs had been ignored and more riots were inevitable.

The Howard League for Penal Reform said it had received an email in the past fortnight from a prisoner transferred from Spring Hill, warning: "Spring Hill is heading for massive meltdown and possibly a riot."

Although Corrections blamed gang tensions for the riot, Howard League spokeswoman Madeleine Rose said the public should "keep an open mind".

Retired Parole Board member Dame June Jackson said Spring Hill had a more relaxed regime than high-security Auckland Prison, also referred to as Paremoremo.

However, she said gangs imposed added strains on staff. "It's very difficult to manage gangs in the jail."

The partner of an inmate in the high security wing told the Herald on Sunday she had been beside herself with worry. "I've got three kids with him and we plan to be a family when he gets out. He could be out in the next few months depending on his behaviour so I'm hoping he is not involved in the riots."

David Clendon, Green Party corrections spokesman, claimed smoking bans, double-bunking and increasingly cramped dining and exercise areas were causing tensions, and prisoners' legitimate concerns were not being dealt with promptly and fairly.

- Herald on Sunday

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