10 Aug 2015

Inmate considers legal action against Corrections

9:10 am on 10 August 2015

An inmate is considering legal action against the Department of Corrections after he had his skull fractured and other bones broken in prison, his lawyer says.

Auckland Prison at Paremoremo.

Auckland Prison at Paremoremo. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Convicted murderer Nikki Roper was attacked last month in D Block at Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, the maximum security wing of the country's maximum security prison.

Roper is serving a life sentence for murdering his former girlfriend Alexsis Tovizi in 2010.

He was transferred to the prison and was critically injured just days after arriving. His lawyer, Kiran Paima, said his client warned the prison he was at risk and it should have done more to protect him.

Mr Paima said Roper now has a titanium plate in his jaw and suffered hearing loss, nerve damage, facial injuries, as well as the broken bones and a fractured skull.

"This particular violence shouldn't have happened. It might just have been the nature of the beast, in the sense that prisons are violent places and not all violence can be eliminated.

"But some violence can, and where [the Department of] Corrections can identify the risks I firmly believe they should act," he said.

Mr Paima said Roper is now being kept in isolation and may never recover from some of his injuries.

"It's a position where I do think that more could have been done and whether it's deliberate, careless, reckless, negligent, who cares... I just think that in this country we expect more," Mr Paima said.

A patron of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Canterbury, Nigel Hampton QC, also said inmates should expect to be kept safe.

"It's one of the fundamentals which the state undertakes when they incarcerate anybody - male, female, on remand or serving time as a sentence.

"They have a strong duty of care to keep them safe, to keep them healthy, to afford them all that is necessary to keep them safe and healthy," he said.

Mr Hampton said if the Corrections Department was warned about the potential for violence then it should trigger some sort of response and investigation.

He said it should look at what had prompted the prisoner to raise concerns, and then shift them from the situation if there was substance to those concerns.

Criminologist Greg Newbold said violence in prisons had been escalating.

"Prior to 1979 there wasn't a prison homicide in New Zealand's history, so prisons are becoming more dangerous.

"Prior to the 1970s the gangs weren't a major feature of prisons, now they are and prisons are far more dangerous places now than they used to be," he said.

Mr Newbold also said the Corrections Department "definitely had to be vigilant" about violence in prisons.

"It's the responsibility of the department to make sure that if there is a likelihood that someone is going to be assaulted, then they need to take some action."

Ms Paima said two people had been charged over his client's injuries and he understands they will appear in an Auckland court in this week.

Department of Corrections responds

The Department of Corrections released a short statement to Radio New Zealand from its Prison Director for Auckland Prison, Tom Sherlock.

"Corrections has a duty of care to prisoners and every prisoner on prisoner assault is investigated.

Prisoners may face internal or court charges as a result.

Corrections takes violence in prison seriously as it manages some of the most challenging people in the country.

Unfortunately some of these men see violence as a means of addressing the issues they face."