30 Jul 2009

Clamp on prison officers' freedom of speech denied

9:53 pm on 30 July 2009

The head of the prison service denies that guards have been threatened by their employers about giving evidence to a parliamentary select committee.

Beven Hanlon, national president of the Corrections Association, one of the unions representing prison officers, says that at least four threats have been made to association members who worked in a privately run remand centre.

But Barry Matthews, chief executive of the Corrections Department, says that's not true. Staff were told only that they were not to speak on behalf of the department, he says, because as public servants they must be politically neutral.

Private management didn't impress some guards

Parliament's law and order select committee is considering legislation that would allow prisons to be managed privately.

Bart Birch, Uaea Leavasa and Satish Prasad presented a submission to the committee on behalf of some prison guards employed by Auckland Central Remand Prison.

In it, they criticised the way the prison was run when it operated under private management between 2000 and 2005.

ACT MP David Garrett, a member of the committee, told them that their submission would stop them getting a job in a privately run prison.

Hide's comfortable with comments; Collins isn't

Green MP Metiria Turei, also a committee member, says she was appalled at Mr Garrett's remarks, which in her view undermined the safety of the select-committee process; and Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove says Mr Garrett's attitude was bullying and unprofessional.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins also says the comments were totally inappropriate.

ACT leader Rodney Hide says however that he has no concerns about the comments, and rejects any suggestion that they could be considered intimidating.

Mr Hide says he does not believe it's anything to get upset about, and he has not spoken to Mr Garrett.