14 Aug 2015

Death in Mt Eden foreseeable - guards

7:23 pm on 14 August 2015

New Zealand First says prison guards failed to follow correct procedure when they discovered a prisoner dying at Mt Eden Prison on Thursday morning.

New Zealand First says prison guards failed to follow correct procedure when they discovered a prisoner dying at Mt Eden Prison on Thursday morning.

The party's Corrections spokesperson, Mahesh Bindra, said he was told no Corrections staff were on duty overnight, despite the Government saying the department had resumed management of the prison after failings by the private operator Serco.

he said the staff on duty were not inadequately trained and what they did was - instead of laying the person in a recovery position and providing first aid - they actually transported that person to a hospital, which was a no no.

"And the police investiating this case are not very happy about it."

Mr Bindra said Serco's contract should be cancelled and the Minister should resign.

Corrections strongly rejects the allegations.

It says Corrections staff are on duty at night, normal rosters apply and all incidents are immediately reported to the acting prison director.

The sudden death of an inmate at the troubled Mt Eden Prison is unfortunate but not surprising, the union for prison guards says.

Mt Eden Prison

Photo: RNZ

The man, a remand prisoner, died yesterday and his body will undergo a post-mortem this morning. His death is not suspicious.

But it comes after the state stepped in to take control of the prison, which was being run by the private operator Serco.

The Corrections Association said the upheaval from this was taking a toll on already anxious inmates.

The Corrections Inspectorate, which will investigate the death, is already looking into allegations about organised fights, contraband, inmate injuries and the death of another prisoner.

What we know

  • Police notified by phone of the death at 8.41am
  • Corrections Department calls the death a tragedy and expresses its condolences to family and friends
  • The Department says it makes significant efforts to stop prisoners hurting themselves
  • The Corrections Association says this is not true
  • The Minister of Corrections has not made any comment

The Corrections Association said prison guards belonging to the union found the man.

Spokesperson Beven Hanlon said the recent management change had been hard for inmates, who did not know what was happening.

"Routines have all changed. The place has essentially been tipped upside down since the videos came out a few weeks ago, and there's just all sorts of uncertainty," he said.

Mr Hanlon said this uncertainty was spread right throughout the prison, to both inmates and staff.

He said staff were not sure who was in charge at the prison because Serco was sending emails to them each day saying it was still running the prison.

Protesters gathered this morning outside the prison.

Protesters gathered this morning outside the prison. Photo: RNZ / Sharon Brettkelly

The Department of Corrections took the unusual step of saying why the man died, but this cannot be reported for legal reasons.

The Department said it made "significant efforts" to stop prisoners hurting themselves, but Mr Hanlon said this was not true.

"Ten years ago prisons were much safer in the sense that we used to have to go round every hour at night and check on a prisoner's cell.

"We used to have to visually sight the prisoner and be comfortable that he was physically there and alive, and we did that every hour," he said.

Mr Hanlon said costs were then cut, half of the night staff in prisons were got rid of, and the hourly checks became checks made every four hours.

"A lot can happen in four hours," Mr Hanlon said. "You add double-bunking, overcrowding, short-staffing ... they all add to it unfortunately," he said.

The Department of Corrections said its initiatives included mental health training for frontline staff, a mental health screening tool, and a more therapeutic environment in at-risk units.

Figures the department released yesterday show the number of "unnatural" deaths in New Zealand prisons has been rising in recent years.

  • 2014/15 - 8
  • 2013/14 - 3
  • 2012/13 - 3
  • 2011/12 - 5
  • 2010/11 - 12

The department said unnatural deaths include suicide, homicide, death from a drug overdose, death in an accident and other cases where there is evidence to suggest a non-natural cause.

It said its staff had saved the lives of about 100 prisoners over the past five financial years.

No further comment

Radio New Zealand asked the Department of Corrections if the inmate was in an at-risk unit or was being monitored in any way because of any mental health conditions.

The department was also asked how often the inmate was checked on and whether it will be reviewing the status of any other prisoners.

A spokesperson said it would not comment because the death had been referred to the Coroner.

The police were yesterday in the process of notifying the man's next of kin, and said the Auckland CIB was investigating.

The office for the Corrections Minister, Sam Lotu-Iiga, said questions Radio New Zealand had were questions for the Minister to answer.

The Minister has not made any comment. His office said late yesterday he was still seeking information from his department.

Prisoners filmed themselves fighting in Mt Eden prison.

Prisoners filmed themselves fighting in Mt Eden prison. Photo: YouTube

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