4 Sep 2008

Non-serious assaults on prison staff rise

4:38 pm on 4 September 2008

The number of non-serious assaults on prison staff has more than doubled in the past year, according to figures released to Radio New Zealand

The Corrections Department defines a non-serious assault as an act of physical violence that results in bodily harm requiring medical intervention, but not overnight hospitalisation.

While the number of serious assaults by prisoners on prison staff has declined in the past decade, non-serious assaults on staff have increased from 25 in the 2006/07 year to 61 in the 2007/08 year.

Corrections says improved reporting procedures are behind the increase in the number of non-serious assaults against prison staff.

It says officers have recently been encouraged to seek medical treatment for injuries that, in the past, might have considered too minor for medical intervention.

Corrections service support manager Karen Irwin says the definition fits in with Health and Safety legislation and could include anything from abusive language to throwing cold water. However, she says it does not mean that the department regards any assault as non-serious.

The department also says the figures do not relate to the number of incidents, but rather the number of staff being treated for injuries.

It says there have been a number of instances over the past 12 months where one incident led to a number of staff being injured.

Department in denial - union

A union representing many prison workers says the department is in denial over the level of violence experienced by prison staff.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon says the figures show assaults on prison staff are growing at a dramatic rate, but is questioning the way the department records such incidents.

He says a case that occurred last Sunday, in which a woman officer at Otago Prison was punched repeatedly in the face by a prisoner, would be classified as a non-serious assault. He says he would consider that a serious assault.

Radio New Zealand asked the Corrections Department how many prison staff have been hospitalised as a result of being attacked by a prisoner. Corrections declined to answer, saying it does not centrally record this information.