Report of Waikeria Prison riot Inquiry

7  June 2024

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Waikeria Prison Riot 29 December 2020 – 3 January 2021 has been released.

The Inquiry was commissioned by the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections and conducted by the Chief Inspector of the Office of the Inspectorate.

As well as examining the riot itself, the report investigates the underlying causes of the riot, missed opportunities to contain the riot, the response to the riot, the post-incident response, and Health Services preparedness and response.

“The riot was violent, destructive, and presented a real risk to life. Its magnitude was unprecedented in New Zealand correctional history,” said Chief Inspector Janis Adair. “It was not a peaceful protest, nor was it a proportionate response to prisoners’ dissatisfaction with prison conditions.

“Nonetheless, this Inquiry has found significant issues with the Department of Corrections’ preparedness for, and response to, this disorder event.”

Ms Adair said that prior to the riot, prison conditions and prisoner behaviour combined to create a risk of disorder, which was not appropriately managed. “When disorder broke out in the Top Jail’s yard 116, there was a lack of early decisive intervention. Several opportunities were missed to prevent the situation from escalating to the extent that it did. Once fires became established there was a delay in ordering the evacuation of the prison. During the first few hours after disorder started, the prison’s response was characterised by poor communication and ineffective command and control.

“This Inquiry also found issues with training, equipment, building security, staff roles, and health and safety, among others. Corrections had not fully addressed the lessons from previous disorder events.

“The riot was a time of danger for staff and those prisoners who were not involved. The Top Jail was evacuated without loss of life due to the courageous actions of staff. It was also a time of great concern for whānau and family of staff and prisoners.

”I want to acknowledge the ongoing impact of this event and the trauma it caused, not only to staff and prisoners in the Top Jail, but to staff from across the prison network who were involved. So too, the significant impact on staff of the relocation of prisoners from the Top Jail to prisons across the North Island.

“Following such events there are always lessons that can be learned. My approach to this Inquiry was not to find fault with the decisions or actions of any individual, rather to take a systems, practice and policy wide review of matters within the scope of the Terms of Reference.

“This report is the result of months of exhaustive inquiry and is testament to the dedicated efforts of my team to investigate fairly, impartially and objectively. There is much to learn and to action.”