22 Jul 2015

Labour calls for prison violence inquiry

6:19 am on 22 July 2015

The Labour Party is calling for a full inquiry into prisoner violence at Auckland's Mt Eden prison, saying organised fighting and allegations over the death of an inmate could be the tip of the iceberg.

Mt Eden Prison

Photo: RNZ

The Speaker of the House allowed an urgent debate yesterday, saying it was critical the public had confidence in the prison system.

Labour MP Kelvin Davis raised fresh allegations in Parliament, including the case of "Prisoner Evans" who he said died from a ruptured lung after being transferred from the prison which is run by the private operator Serco.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Mr Davis said the man was transferred to Ngawha prison before being sent to Whangarei Hospital, where he died.

He said the prisoner was dropped from a balcony at Mt Eden before his transfer.

Mr Davis also raised the case of a man transferred to Whanganui prison in May last year, who he said had two broken legs.

"Serco is out of control. There's the fight clubs, there's incidents of what they call 'dropping', where prisoners are dropped off balconies onto concrete below.

"It really does need a high-level inquiry. This is really severe behaviour. This really needs to stop and the Minister and Corrections really need to get on top of it," he said.

Mr Davis said prisoners with serious injuries were being transferred out of Mt Eden to other prisons and he questioned which prisons were recording the prisoners' injuries.

It was time the Government took action to ensure the safety of prisoners, he said.

"I am really concerned that this is the tip of the iceberg and that more will come out, and I'm also worried that people are being damaged and coming into our communities broken and damaged."

Prisoners filmed themselves fighting in Mt Eden prison.

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

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern told Parliament Labour had long held concerns that Serco was seriously understaffed.

"The last time Labour raised concerns around Serco was when we had legitimate concerns raised by staff within that facility, who said that Serco was understaffing the prison - that at times of a unit of 40 there would be one prison officer."

But Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley told MPs she thought it was a pretty clear-cut matter.

"Let's put the facts on the table. These are bad people. That's why they are in prison, because they are bad people and the first role of Corrections is to keep the communities safe from them, okay?"

Minister of Corrections Sam Lotu-Iiga said Mr Davis was out of line by making unsubstantiated allegations, including about the death of prisoner Evans.

He said he would not be drawing any conclusions until a coronial inquest was complete.

"Kelvin Davis should apologise to the family of the young man who died in Northland after attempting to use this tragedy for political gain in Parliament.

"I know he's trying to discredit Serco, which runs the facility, but he's made allegations that can only be upsetting for this family. He has got absolutely no proof that the death of this young man was caused by an act of violence."

Corrections, Serco respond

Corrections said it could confirm that a prisoner died in hospital in Northland in June and at the time the department passed its condolences onto his family and friends.

It said the prisoner underwent a standard health check on arrival at Northland Region Corrections Facility which did not reveal any concerns.

"However, he became seriously unwell soon after and was immediately transferred to hospital where, unfortunately, he has died.

"The death of a prisoner while in Corrections custody is of great concern to the department. We cannot go into details around this death ahead of a coronial inquest.

"An inspectorate review will also be conducted, along with a clinical health review."

Serco Director of Operations Scott McNairn said in a statement that allegations were being investigated.

"The Chief Inspector of Corrections is holding an investigation into a number of incidents and allegations which relate to MECF [Mt Eden Correctional Facility]," the statement said.

"This is being conducted independently of Serco. An additional level of oversight is provided by the Ombudsman."

The statement said Serco was also holding its own review and would work with Corrections.

It said it did not determine which prisoners were transfered or when.

"The alleged practice of 'dropping' would result in a considerable frequency of prisoners being admitted to hospital with serious lower limb injuries. This has not been the case," it said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs