One of the 17 prisoners in control of a section of Waikeria Prison has surrendered, after the group of inmates called on Māori Party MP Rawiri Waititi to offer assistance.
The prisoner who surrendered was assessed and cleared by medical staff and is now speaking with Police, who will determine whether charges are laid.
The surrender and call for help came as the riot at the facility reached the end of its third day.
Corrections has confirmed that inmates are continuing to light fires in the charred and gutted facility, with another fire reported in the “top jail” facility – one of a series of fires lit there since Tuesday.
“There are a number of people who continue to light fires as they want to,” a Department of Corrections spokeswoman told Stuff. The staffer was unable to provide details about the size of the fire, or if the blaze has prompted new action from the Fire and Emergency NZ.
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The remaining 16 prisoners appeared to be getting desperate for food and water on Thursday, after negotiators withheld both to starve them out.
The MP said he was more than willing to assist in what he refers to as a judicial “revolution”, after inmates called on him for help.
“I’m quite happy to have that discussion with them and quite happy to advocate for them, ensuring that we settle not only them, the whānau inside, but also the whānau outside,” Waititi told Stuff.
Prisoners can be seen on the roof of a unit at Waikeria Prison following riots which began on Tuesday.
“If they are being treated inhumanely, we’ve got to make sure their issues are addressed.”
Earlier, Corrections staff made arrangements to allow the 17 inmates to speak with kaumātua.
“An operation involving support from our Advanced Control and Restraint staff was planned to enable this to happen safely,” Corrections said in a statement.
“However, [it] did not resolve the situation.”
Waititi said he was not surprised by the inmates’ claims of “inhuman” treatment at Waikeria Prison, including brown drinking water and unchanged bedding for six months.
However, he believed there was a deeper issue at play.
“The system does not work for our people, it continuously fails our people, and we need to start looking at creative and innovative ways that work better for our people.
“Fifty percent of the male prison population are Māori and 64 percent of the female population in prison are Māori – that’s the highest per cent for any indigenous population. That’s unacceptable.”
Māori Party MP Rawiri Waititi believes the justice and corrections system is outdated and continuously fails his people.
He said both prisons and the system are outdated.
“It’s racist and the system needs a huge transformation.
“We need by Māori to Māori for Māori solutions. Kaupapa Māori-driven solutions to look at the best result for our whānau.”
A former offender turned anti-prison activist, Leslie Orchard, also agrees that the riot was built on years of injustice.
Described as New Zealand’s most prolific fraudster, Orchard has “done his time” in various prisons across the country.
Waikeria was one of the worst, he said.
Major structural damage to Waikeria Prison after a fire was lit by prisoners, some of whom remain on the roof of the prison.
“This situation has been going on for years and it has taken something like this protest to bring it all out in the open,” Orchard said.
He said he first went to Waikeria Prison in 1984 and was shocked by the treatment and “decrepit state” of the cells.
“I know exactly what they [the group of 17] are going through asking for toilet paper. I’ve been there, done that,” Orchard said.
“You wouldn’t put your dog in those cells, that’s how bad it is.”
Department of Corrections confirmed on Thursday that nothing at the Waikato prison had changed overnight.
Stuff understands that members of the Comancheros and Mongols gangs are among the group still rioting.
Leslie Orchard was a career fraudster with 1600 convictions and various jail sentences.
Numerous members of both gangs were arrested this year after police conducted multiple crime operations in the Bay of Plenty.
The prison remains in lockdown as the tense standoff with 17 prisoners continues.
The potential for a four-day standstill concerns former police negotiator Lance Burdett who believes the “longer the wait the worse the outcome”.
“The longer this goes on the longer the prison will be on knife edge,” Burdett said.
He said the negotiators’ current tactics of starving the prisoners out often doesn’t work, particularly in prisons. Instead, it just fuels their frustrations.
“Putting on additional measures to what’s already there in prison is counterproductive.
The area where Waikeria Prison riots are taking place can be seen in the bottom right.
“Their loss of liberty is their punishment. It isn’t being treated inhumanely.”
He believes an independent review is the best tactic for this situation, but admits extracting the prisoners may be Corrections only option.
“Negotiation is the best way forward … extraction is the worst option because people are likely to get hurt.
“But I have to say, Corrections staff trained in this type of incident are very good and highly skilled at bringing these things to minimal harm or risk.
“That’s one thing the country can take satisfaction from.”
A Department of Corrections spokesperson said Fire and Emergency NZ, Police and St John remain at the prison and are working with Corrections staff.
Former police crisis negotiator Lance Burdett believes in this case there needs to be an independent review.
“The situation remains unchanged,” the spokesperson told Stuff.
“If there are any significant changes we will give an update, but currently it remains the same.”
The first images of the prison, taken from the air by Stuff, show the destruction left by the inmates who rebelled and started lighting fires on Tuesday afternoon.
Row upon row of roofs have collapsed, with the inside of most of the buildings in the facility gutted and charred.
The unrest kicked off around 2pm on Tuesday when fires were lit in the “top jail” facility in an exercise yard.
Prisoners had been lighting mattresses on fire, Corrections has said.
The prison population of Waikeria sits at around 750 inmates, making up about 7.2 per cent of the country’s prison population. About 250 beds are located in Waikeria’s top jail facility.
The top jail facility is one of the oldest parts of the prison, built in 1911, and was due to be replaced by a new facility scheduled to open in 2022.
Corrections told Stuff on Wednesday morning that while the condition of the building still needed to be assessed, it was unlikely prisoners could be held there again.
On Wednesday, about 200 prisoners from Waikeria were transferred to other prison sites. The inmates are being provided with mental health support.