28 Jul 2015

Prisons must not ignore violence - network

6:58 am on 28 July 2015

Turning a blind eye to violence in prisons would prevent inmates' rehabilitation, the Māori caucus of the National Network for Stopping Violence says.

A cell block at Auckland South Corrections Facility.

Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Fifteen percent of Aotearoa's population is Māori but they make up more than 50 percent of the country's prison population.

The Department of Corrections has formally taken over the management Mt Eden prison from private operator Serco while a string of allegations - including a fight club and the death of an inmate - are investigated.

Takura Tawera, from Te Pukenga, said any violence within prison was unacceptable and not the way to address issues.

He said violence was very likely the reason behind those prisoners ending up in jail in the first place and Te Pukenga was trying to offer an alternative.

"That's something that we personally feel that any system or organisation or any prison that turns a blind eye on things, that is serious, because we are trying to model a society around hope and if the message of stopping violence and saying no to violence is our message then we hope it can be passed on to all systems."

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith has said guards at Mt Eden prison told him the biggest problem at the facility was understaffing.

Mr Tawera said limits on prison resources, particularly staffing, could have a detrimental effect and impact on prisoners' rehabilitation.

"If there is a limit on resources then it can have an impact."

Mr Tawera said the recent controversy over Mt Eden had had one positive effect - highlighting the issue of violence in prisons and opening it up to community debate.

He said the message to men in the work Te Pukenga does was that there was a better way to confront issues rather than using violence.

"Certainly men do end up in confrontations, men do end up being confronted by others because there are behavioural issues [that are to do with] more than just being in prison."

He said in general the men coming to Te Pukenga do have good hearts, but not the skills or process to manage tension and sometimes, some men resort back to the familiar ways of dealing with it - violence.

"If violence has been a way, or intimidation and collusion or deviousness, then that becomes a part of their coping strategy."

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