A prison guard has described a protest at a Northland prison that saw part of a jail wing destroyed as a "full-on riot".
Unrest broke out at the Northland Region Corrections Facility at Ngawha, near Kaikohe, with prisoners starting a fire and causing damage to a number of cells.
The group of about 20 inmates lit fires, burned mattresses and
bed linen and smashed beds and tables at 2pm on Sunday.
The prisoners were in their cells at the time, and the Department of Corrections said staff had the situation under control in 30 minutes.
But one prison guard who contacted ONE News described it as a "full on riot" that lasted hours.
The guard said that staff felt ill equipped to deal with it.
Corrections Association president Bevan Hanlon said that the prisoners "really destroyed the place".
"It did go on for some time, and it was brought under control by ICR teams so if you're involved in that it's a pretty scary situation to be in."
He said that prisoners "smashed their cells up".
"The reality is that the staff did a fantastic job with what they've got, and what we've got is nothing.
"So they went in with personal protective equipment and they convinced the prisoners into just giving up. And if they hadn't they'd be stuck."
He said personal protective equipment should only be used as the last line of safety.
"We've got a problem in the New Zealand system, because we should be putting in a dog, or gas, or a taser."
"We go into an unsafe environment and hope for the best."
Corrections says the group has now been split-up with some facing disciplinary action, criminal charges and relocation to other prisons.