Crims receive six-figure compensation

Documents have revealed six figure compensation payouts to five prisoners - one a murderer - who were held at Auckland's Paremoremo prison.

The prisoners, who were held in the now-defunct behaviour management regime unit, have received payouts of $106,000.

Human rights lawyer Tony Ellis said he was seeking compensation in the Auckland High Court for a further 72 criminals who were subjected to inhumane treatment by Auckland prison staff between 1998 and 2004, and estimated more than 100 others could still claim.

The payout has been revealed in figures obtained by The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act. Nearly $400,000 has been paid to inmates in compensation since 2006 – most for being kept in jail too long.

And the payouts may not end there, with an estimated 200 more inmates in the running for $4.5 million in compensation from prisons.

The Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act 2005 was passed after a public outcry at the verdict of the first five prisoners, allowing the criminals' victims to claim the compensation.

Corrections Department chief executive Ray Smith said most of the settlements related to unlawful detention, which could happen when judges or court staff mistakenly recorded the wrong date on prisoners' warrants, or prison staff miscalculated "time served".

While the public were right to be concerned that errors could occur in detaining prisoners, the numbers were not large considering 108,000 inmates had been in prison in the past five years.

"I consider the number of cases ... should be viewed in context."

The documents also reveal a convicted criminal was paid $5000 in compensation after prison staff lost his designer luggage.

Taxpayers forked out for the prisoner's suitcase full of expensive clothing after it was lost by staff when the inmate was transferred between prisons.

Investigations reveal the inmate made two claims – the first for a bag that he said was lost in transit to prison. It apparently contained a TAG Heuer 2000 Aquagraph watch, two pairs of dress shoes, two suits and a doe leather jacket. Timepieces from the Swiss watchmaker sell for upwards of $3000.

While that claim was declined, a later claim for a bag of designer clothing was accepted.

The personal property was itemised and the prisoner given a receipt, but the bag never arrived at the next prison, a Corrections Department spokesman said.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said it was insulting for victims of crime to fight so hard for their own compensation and then find convicted criminals were gifted money for expensive clothes.

"We know prisons need to be run humanely, but the fact we even consider paying compensation for clothing is just wrong."

CRIMS' COMPO

19 offenders were paid a total of $227,300 because they were kept in jail too long.

This includes a former inmate who received $27,000 after he was wrongly kept in custody for an additional 117 days.

The money was for breach of human rights and possible loss of income, a Corrections Department spokesman said.

Another offender was paid $1500 after it was discovered a prison officer had accessed his criminal record, and told other staff members about his convictions.

The largest lump sum was a defamation payout of $50,000 to a convicted criminal, which was settled out of court.

The Corrections Department refused to elaborate on the case.

In the past year alone, 300 small property claims totalling $24,900 were paid out to prisoners – for everything from damaged TVs to lost clothes and a phonecard.

Corrections is reviewing its processes for managing prisoner property to make it more efficient and reduce the cost.

The Dominion Post