24 Aug 2015

Labour calls for Serco royal commission of inquiry

10:08 am on 24 August 2015

Labour is calling for a royal commission of inquiry into Serco, after a prison guard was suspended for allegedly fighting with an inmate at Mount Eden Prison.

The private prison company confirmed yesterday a staff member had been suspended at Mt Eden but would not provide any further details, beyond stating that the officer had been relieved of duties pending a disciplinary hearing.

Labour Party MP, Kelvin Davis.

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour's corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said he didn't trust Serco or Corrections to report what was happening inside the prison, and a completely independent inquiry was necessary.

"I've been sitting around listening to Serco reporting on themselves and Corrections reporting on Serco at select committees... everything they've said so far has been proven to be false," Mr Davis told Morning Report.

"I have no confidence whatsoever in the findings of the inquiry," he said.

Mr Davis said a royal inquiry would hear testimonies from former inmates whose voices he said have been ignored.

Meanwhile, the union for prison guards said the allegations that an officer was involved in a fight club in jail should be properly investigated by the police - but it was unlikely an officer assaulted a prisoner at Mount Eden Prison.

Corrections Association spokesperson Beven Hanlon said the officer was suspended because of the climate surrounding the prison, but there was no proof his actions were assault.

"I don't think it's as clear-cut as saying there's been a fight between an officer and a prisoner," Mr Hanlon said.

"The realities there are [that] if there's video footage of such things the police would be involved, and quite simply the police aren't involved."

"I haven't seen the video as yet but we have spoken to the officer involved... he's comfortable with what he's done."

But Mr Hanlon said there's still plenty of evidence Serco breached its contract.

Mt Eden Prison

Photo: RNZ

The Department of Corrections took over management of the prison last month following allegations of violence, including organised fights that were filmed on smuggled smartphones.

Corrections Association spokesperson Beven Hanlon said he understood there was no footage of the prison officer actually fighting, only CCTV footage of the guard and the prisoner in the same area.

The prisoner had subsequently made a claim of assault against the guard, Mr Hanlon said.

The association did not condone violence against prisoners and had a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, he said.

"If the allegation of an officer being involved in a fight club and organised fights is true, it's a form of corruption.

"Let's get the police in there, let's get the guy investigated properly and if it's true, get them convicted and get them put in jail themselves," Mr Hanlon said.

Mr Hanlon renewed his call for the investigation into Mt Eden Prison, being overseen by the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons, to be completely independent.

"The problem is there's all sorts of allegations, there's all sorts of half-truths - what we need is a proper and thorough independent inquiry into all of this," Mr Hanlon said.

The Prime Minister said the Government was waiting for the findings of inquiries already underway at the prison, which Corrections was looking at, before deciding what action to take with Serco.

John Key said the latest incident added to other issues identified at the prison.

"We need to work through what is fact and what is fiction because some things that are claims but actually (are) unproven, but all we know is that there are some issues there and now we need to work out how significant they are."

"Even though we haven't had data broken down into these individual areas, in all probability when they go through the consultation I suspect some of these things, they will take them out because they're not risky."