Spring Hill prison riot 'well managed'

A prisoner riot at Spring Hill jail last year was "extremely well managed" by Corrections staff, an official inquiry into the incident has found.

The internal inquiry by the Department of Corrections looked at the circumstances and causes of the riot, which broke out on Saturday, June 1 last year.

The brawl was sparked by the discovery of two containers of 'homebrew' by prison staff at the North Waikato facility.

Following the discovery staff members were assaulted, and when they retreated the prisoners began attacking the jail, the report released today said. Within hours up to 27 prisoners were running riot within the prison, damaging property and lighting fires.

The inquiry found that the ability of prisoners to stockpile fruit, and access alcohol-based sanitisers, had contributed to the incident. The homebrew was found to have been made from fermented fruit.

Aspects of the design of the unit and how high security prisoners were being managed was also highlighted.

"We've learned from this event and taken recommendations on board to reduce the possibility of another similar disturbance," said Corrections chief executive Ray Smith.

"I'm proud the inquiry recognised that individual staff members showed courage and commitment under very difficult conditions. Our Advanced Control and Restraint teams ended the riot safely and in extremely difficult circumstances.

"Staff have been recognised and commended for their actions and bravery."

The inquiry recommended a number of improvements to the way prisons are managed, including limiting the amount of fruit available to prisoners, reviewing the management of high security prisoners and removing alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

The final cost to Corrections for rebuilding the unit which was destroyed in the riot, with security and safety enhancements, is approximately $10 million, Corrections said.

The full report was not released to the public in order to "protect the security of New Zealand prisons and because prisoners are still facing court processes", the department said.

More than 20 prisoners were charged with serious offences in relation to the riot.

- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ

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