10 Jul 2008

Tasers would not have stopped attack, says Corrections

1:05 pm on 10 July 2008

Giving prison guards weapons such as tasers would not have stopped an attack on a Rimutaka Prison guard on Friday, the Department of Corrections says.

The Corrections Association, which represents prison officers, is calling for guards to be armed with taser guns following the attack at the prison in Upper Hutt.

Police and the Department of Corrections are investigating the assault, in which the association says the officer was hit on the back of the head with a broom by a prisoner on Friday morning.

The union says the guard suffered multiple skull fractures and an eye injury, and remains in a serious condition in hospital.

The department's southern regional manager Paul Monk told Morning Report on Wednesday that the use of a weapon such as a taser gun would not have stopped this particular incident, as it was sudden and unforeseen by staff.

However, he says the department is looking at whether giving staff more tools, such as stab proof vests, is necessary.

Mr Monk says any change needs to be thought through carefully, as New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of staff assault by prisoners of any prison jurisdiction in the world.

"If you give staff anything like a taser or pepper spray then that is potentially a weapon that prisoners can access by taking it off the staff," he says.

Union calls for tasers

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon says prison staff need something that is an immediate deterrent to prisoners.

Mr Hanlon disagrees that giving guards tasers or tear gas would increase the danger, with the possibility of weapons being taken by inmates and used against staff.

"In saying that, we wouldn't give prisoners razors which they cut us with, we wouldn't give them toothbrushes which they stab us with ... we wouldn't give them chops because we get stabbed with the bones," he says.

Mr Hanlon says the argument is pointless because prisoners make anything into a weapon.

He would also like to see the use of different types of gas, including tear gas.

"A situation where tear gas is really useful is like at Hawke's Bay Prison the other day where 26 gang members started jumping on the heads of five others, and Corrections officers had to stand around and watch because there's only three officers in that unit of 60 prisoners.

"If we had tear gas you could deploy that amongst the prisoners, it will stop what they're doing immediately."

Paul Monk says there has been a 90% reduction in serious assaults by prisoners on staff in the past decade, and that in 2006, there were six serious assaults by prisoners on staff.

The union says in the 2006/2007 year 318 staff were assaulted, ranging from being spat on, through to being hospitalised.

Violence reported at Spring Hill

The Corrections Department is downplaying reports of violence at Spring Hill prison, near Meremere, as minor incidents.

The Public Service Association, which represents some prison guards, says a prisoner armed with a broom handle and chair threatened staff and prisoners on Tuesday.

Spring Hill Prison facility manager Noho Williams says it was a minor incident and no one was injured.

Mr Williams says a prisoner broke several windows in a unit and had to be subdued. No staff or other prisoners were involved.

The department also confirmed another incident at Spring Hill on Friday, in which a window was damaged after prisoners became agitated about a power outage.

The prison was locked down until full power was restored, as a precaution.