23 Sep 2009

Use of military in prisons considered, court told

5:28 pm on 23 September 2009

The Corrections Department considered bringing in military support to help run prisons if agreement could not be reached with unions over double-bunking, a court has been told.

The Employment Court is hearing a case brought by prison officers' union the Corrections Association, which says the department did not follow protocols in trying to introduce double-bunking, in which two inmates are housed in one cell.

Vince Arbuckle, from the department's human resources section, told the court in Wellington on Wednesday that using the military was just one option suggested if the issue of double-bunking was not resolved.

Mr Arbuckle said other options included privatising four new prisons so they did not have the same protocol constraints as for current staff.

He said these options were being considered because the department and the Minister of Corrections faced a rise in prisoner numbers, but nowhere to house them.

Mr Arbuckle admitted the department had not asked for extra funding in the 2009 Budget to cover incentives for prison officers working with increased inmate numbers.

The court was told the department considered asking an official from the Treasury to speak to the Corrections Association about the need for restraint.

The union's lawyer asked Mr Arbuckle whether the department considered seeking extra remuneration in the 2009 Budget for officers in prisons where double-bunking was to be introduced.

Mr Arbuckle said the department felt it was not appropriate to ask for further Budget funding, as extra staff were to be employed in prisons where double-bunking was in place.

Mr Arbuckle said the department considered bringing in someone from the Treasury to talk to the union about the need for fiscal restraint, given the state of the economy.