1 Mar 2017

Corrections staffer sacked for assault on tied-down prisoner

8:20 pm on 1 March 2017

A Department of Corrections staff member has been sacked for assaulting a severely at-risk inmate while he was tied to a bed.

Inside Paremoremo prison

A file photo of a New Zealand prison: The Chief Ombudsman's report into five cases of "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment was released today. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

A report by the Chief Ombudsman, released today, detailed five cases where prisoners were subject to "cruel, inhumane or degrading" treatment.

In one case, a prisoner at risk of injuring himself was secured to a tie-down bed for 16 hours at a time for 37 nights in a row at Auckland Prison last year.

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said, during that time, one staff member assaulted the prisoner.

"Clearly, that's unacceptable, no matter what the circumstances that led to that. So she lost her job and that matter's been referred to the police."

Mr Smith said he could not reveal more about the incident due to the police's involvement.

Tie-down beds and waist restraints can only be used legally in New Zealand as a last resort and in prescribed circumstances. They must be used in a way that minimises harm or discomfort.

The report found the prisoner spent almost 600 hours restrained on the tie-down bed and, in some cases, was not released to go to the toilet.

His limbs were not moved during the periods of restraint.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said Corrections had breached the Convention against Torture.

More generally, he concluded the general management of at-risk prisoners was "substandard and detrimental to their well-being".

"I just don't think that the average New Zealander would accept that tying someone down on a bed, unable to move, day after day, week after week, for this length of time each day is tolerable," Judge Boshier said.

A corrections officer

Up to 14 officers were present in the cell when the inmate was restrained, the report said (file). Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Corrections failed to seek medical approval to use the restraints in 36 out of the 37 nights, the report said.

The report identified a failure to follow protocol in securing prisoners to tie-down beds, with up to 14 Corrections officers in the cell while the inmate was being restrained.

"It appeared disorganised at best and dangerous at worst."

The report suggested the restraints were used excessively because of a lack of resources, but Mr Smith denied that.

"I think the staff did all the right things initially. I think that plan went on for too long and mistakes were made in the course of it."

Mr Smith said he took immediate steps to review the policy over the use of tie-down beds after he became aware of the case.

"I accept that some mistakes were made in the use of the tie-down bed in this case and its use crept from being a last-option to a tool for managing the prisoner's health and complex behaviours.

"I have personally met with the prisoner concerned and discussed his care over this time. Although he remains a complex prisoner to manage, he is responding well to a new health management plan and is not presently self-harming."

The Ombudsman's report identified "inappropriate behaviours" by two Corrections staff members.

Mr Smith described as "a failure of integrity on their part" and said the matters were "fully investigated and appropriate action taken".