Two National MPs have been refused entry to Waikeria Prison while leader Judith Collins is calling for Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis to "front up" over the unfolding Waikeria Prison disorder.
The sky above the Waikato prison was orange overnight as prisoners lit fires at the 'top jail' facility they have been holed up in since Tuesday. The 16 remaining inmates say they are protesting against their treatment, claiming a lack of access to basic necessities.
But the Leader of the Opposition said on Saturday that the "mass destruction of taxpayer-funded property, assaulting Corrections staff and hoarding weapons is not a 'peaceful protest'".
Corrections said on Friday that prisoners have "forcibly" entered restricted areas with tactical equipment, constructed "makeshift weapons that we believe they are planning to use against staff", and accessed a medical dispensary where controlled drugs are stored.
"While the group state that they are protesting conditions at the prison and not rioting, their actions are clearly violent," incident controller Jeanette Burns said.
The department said earlier this week that no staff or prisoners had been injured, but on Friday said a prisoner who surrendered on Thursday was assaulted by other inmates "who attempted to prevent him from leaving".
Collins believes Davis "needs to front up and explain how this loss of control happened and what he's going to do to fix it".
"He was perfectly happy to crow about prisons in Opposition but now that he's in charge, he's nowhere to be seen," she said. "My thoughts are with all the Corrections staff having to deal with this situation at Waikeria Prison."
Davis won't, however, step in. A spokesperson for the minister said this week he won't comment until the situation is resolved but is across developments.
National's Corrections spokesperson Simeon Brown has also called for Davis to "show some leadership" and visit the prison to ensure responders are supported.
"An independent investigation must be undertaken into how this riot started and whether the response to it has been adequate."
Brown and local National MP Barbara Kuriger attempted to visit the prison on Saturday to support Corrections officers.
"We were turned away from entering as this is an emergency situation which we were told requires Kelvin Davis's approval to enter and talk to the Prison Director. We will be making this request this afternoon," Brown said.
Also calling for Davis' intervention is Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi who visited the prison on New Year's Eve to meet with inmates who requested to speak to him.
"I was invited to listen and that's exactly what I did. They are clear that this is not a riot, it is a protest for their human rights for all inmates past and present," Waititi said on Friday.
"They are protesting for their right to basic human needs. The environment in Waikeria prison is dehumanising. The water they are expected to drink is brown. They don't get clothing or appropriate bedding. They are expected to wash their clothes in the yard shower."
A report last year following a surprise visit from the Ombudsman found issues with clothing and bedding, ventilation and sanitation in cells, poor access to cleaning supplies, and the general size and state of the cells.
Corrections hasn't responded to claims made by Waititi as well as similar allegations made in a manifesto released by the prisoners.
Advocacy group People Against Prisons Aotearoa started a petition on Friday in response to reports that additional food and water wouldn't be given to the non-compliant prisoners. It has received nearly 2300 signatures.
"Negotiators claimed they were trying to 'starve out' the protesters. In another, a prisoner claimed that he was desperately trying to get water remnants from an old hose pipe," the petition says.
"We believe all people deserve the right to food and water. We call on the Minister of Corrections, Kelvin Davis, to intervene and make sure these people get food and water."
After the fires overnight, Corrections said on Saturday it remained committed to ensuring the incident is "resolved safely".
"There are multiple risks involved, including the structural integrity of the fire-damaged buildings, the weapons and equipment available to the prisoners, the toxicity of burnt building materials, and the violence being offered by the prisoners," Burns said.
"Negotiations with the group are ongoing, and specialist Corrections staff are being closely supported by Police with this."
Burns said the prisoners have had multiple opportunities to surrender "and we continue to urge them to take up this option".
"We do not want the men, our staff or other emergency services staff to be hurt. As prisoners surrender they will be secured, searched, provided with food and water, assessed by medical staff and will have access to kaumatua and other support."