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Prisoners were locked up for 26 hours consecutively on alternate days prior to the 2013 riot at Spring Hill Corrections Facility (SHCF), according to a recently released report from the Department of Corrections.
The riot occurred on June 1, 2013, and was widely regarded as the worst incident of its kind in 15 years. It involved 27 prisoners from Unit 16B who damaged prison property and lit fires. Four prison staff received serious injuries and 12 prisoners were injured.
The report states that “the most significant precipitating factor contributing to the initiation of the riot was the availability and consumption of home brew by prisoners in the unit.”
However, No Pride in Prisons spokesperson Emilie Rākete argues “the release of this report [after an Official Information Act request] shows there were much more complex reasons for the riot than Corrections was willing to admit publicly.”
“From the information we have received, it is clear that the riot was largely a response to prison conditions.”
SHCF was opened in 2007 and had an initial capacity of 650 beds. Over 2008–2009 the retrofitting of double bunks increased the facility’s capacity by 52% (from 674 to 1027 beds). The additional inmates included a significant number of high security prisoners.
Department of Corrections’ Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales, who led the inquiry, said the increased capacity “fundamentally impacted the operational philosophy of the prison and some options were looked at to increase the physical security of the site to manage these changes [e.g. changes to internal design of the yards and pods] but they weren’t accepted by senior management at the time.”
Following an incident with home brew in Unit 16B in January 2013, the report states that prison management implemented “a very tight and restrictive regime” with “a third of the [REDACTED] being locked up, a third unlocked within the unit, and a third unlocked and sent to the exercise yard.”
Beales said that in the weeks preceding the riot “the units had moved to a 50:50 unlock because they weren’t putting the prisoners in the yards.”
“Staff, in an attempt to be fair to the prisoners […], were unlocking half of the prisoners in the morning (the other half would remain locked up) between 9.00am and 11.00am and the next day they’d get out between 1.00pm and 3.00pm.”
“The unintended consequence is that every second day, if you get locked up at 11.00am and you’re not getting unlocked until 1.00pm, the time between that is 26 hours.”
The Corrections Act 2004 states that “every prisoner (other than a prisoner who is engaged in outdoor work) may, on a daily basis, take at least one hour of physical exercise.”
Beales said the regime did not break the law as “prisoners were out every day.”
He added that the 26 hour lock up was longer than Corrections would have liked. “It’s not appropriate, it’s not best practice, and all it would do when you have a bunch of unmotivated prisoners […] is possibly exacerbate any underlying tension in the unit.”
Immediately following the riot, the Waikato Times reported that “prisoners had 40 minutes to one hour each day for exercising outside of their cells, which included time to make phone calls to family.”
Kylie Murray, who had a close friend in SHCF’s high security wing, was quoted as saying “when the prison officers went to put them into lockdown [before the riot] the boys stood their ground and said ‘Come on mate, give us a little more time outside’.”
Beales suggested that SHCF was now “running very well” but would not rule out another incident occurring, as prison is a dynamic environment.
On March 15, 2017, a press release from No Pride in Prisons stated “whānau of prisoners [in SHCF] contacted us with concerns about the treatment of their loved ones.”
“All of the prisoners in one unit are being locked into their cells for 22 hours per day.”