23 Jul 2015

Corrections Minister rejects resignation call

6:07 am on 23 July 2015

The Corrections Minister is rejecting calls for his resignation over the scandal surrounding the privately run Mt Eden prison.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Several investigations are underway following reports of prisoner violence and the death of an inmate, Nick Evans.

Labour's corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis has alleged the prisoner was dropped from a balcony by other inmates at Mt Eden jail in May and subsequently died from his injuries after his transfer to a Northland jail.

Mr Davis said Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga ignored warnings about prisoners being dropped from balconies and should step down.

Mr Lotu-Iiga has been under pressure about when he knew of the allegations surrounding Nick Evans' death raised by Mr Davis in Parliament on Tuesday.

Initially the minister said he heard about those allegations only in the past week, however the matter was raised in a law and order select committee hearing last month.

In the committee transcript, Mr Davis said: "There's the guy that passed away recently. Apparently he had a ruptured lung. I've asked how do you get a ruptured lung? It's often from high-impact collision and there's accusations that prisoners have been thrown off balconies and they're getting transferred out of Mt Eden Correctional Facility. And I'm getting this on good measure, Minister."

Mr Lotu-Iiga replied: "Well you're getting hearsay-type representations but the reason I point these figures out is we're talking about serious prisoner-on-staff and prisoner-on-prisoner. The numbers from Mt Eden are actually in line with other prisons."

The minister now says there was no indication from Mr Davis at that point that the practice of "dropping" was widespread.

Mr Lotu-Iiga said he was not happy that certain information had not been passed on to him by Serco.

He said that and other issues will be raised with Serco in a meeting with them today.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Davis said Serco needed to be pulled into line.

"They've gone rogue ...he really needs to demand answers such as why he wasn't informed about a riot I believe occurred in May of last year and he only found out about it yesterday.

"This is just unacceptable because Serco are being paid millions and millions of dollars to house prisoners, to look after them."

He said the blame could not be laid entirely at the feet of this minister, as the problems had occurred under the watch of successive ministers.

But nonetheless, Mr Davis said Mr Lotu-Iiga should relinquish the portfolio.

The minister said he was not going anywhere.

"I'm not resigning, that's crazy stuff, just like some of the speculative remarks in the last few days - pure speculation - and no I'm not going to resign."

Prime Minister John Key said he still had confidence in Mr Lotu-Iiga but signalled he would not be happy if the minister knew about people being dropped off balconies earlier and had done nothing about it.

Radio New Zealand asked Corrections about the alleged riot last May, referred to by Mr Davis.

In a statement Corrections denied there was a riot.

It said early in the morning on a day in May last year a prisoner barricaded the door to his unit, 10 prisoners refused to go back into their cells, four of them caused damage and some weapons were made.

Corrections said the prisoners surrendered at 2.30pm that day and the situation was contained.

It said Advanced Control and Restraint Teams can be called upon, but in this case were not needed.

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