24 Aug 2012

Different way of handling dangerous prisoners urged

11:45 am on 24 August 2012

The Corrections Department is considering making changes to the way prisoners are handled, after a report into the death of a guard who was punched by an inmate.

In his coronial findings on the inquest for Jason Palmer, who was killed at south Auckland's Springhill prison in 2010, Gordon Matenga has made five recommendations.

He thereby disagrees with the departments of Labour and Corrections, which both found no breach of policy or procedure.

His recommendations include getting guards to ask prisoners who pose a threat to put their hands behind their back and lean in the opposite direction when their cells are being opened.

Mr Palmer was hit by an inmate while unlocking a cell door.

Mr Matenga also says there also needs to be better reporting of threats to staff. The inmate who hit Mr Palmer had made a threat about him to another guard, but that wasn't reported.

The department's northern regional manager, Gavin Dalziel, told Morning Report some of the recommendations will be quick to implement, but others may take some planning.

Mr Palmer's wife, Tracey, supports the recommendations. Her uncle, Frederick Church, speaking on her behalf, says she welcomes any change that makes prison officers safer.

Mr Palmer's mother, Ada Palmer, who lives in the United States, says none of the New Zealand authorities told her the report was coming out. She says she only knew the investigation had been completed when she was contacted by Radio New Zealand.

Catalyst for independent look, says union

The prison guard union the Corrections Association says the findings are the catalyst needed for an independent association to look into serious prison incidents.

Association president Beven Hanlon says independent inquiries must be carried out when serious incidents, or death, occurs.

He says an independent association could be set up, similar to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.