Prisoner drama at Mt Eden

AMY MAAS
Last updated 13:03 24/11/2012

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A prisoner has been saved in a dramatic incident this morning after a suicide attempt at Mt Eden Corrections Facility.

The prisoner was found "near death" in his cell by staff as they completed their morning cell unlocks.

"[Staff] found the prisoner hanging, got him down and did everything perfectly," confirmed Beven Hanlon, president of the Corrections Association of New Zealand.

"They started life support, called for assistance and kept him alive until the ambulance arrived."

The prisoner has been admitted to hospital, although Hanlon could not confirm which hospital as it is a security issue.

It was believed the prisoner was alone in his cell at the time.

Hanlon praised the "great work" by prison staff today.

"They're under pressure as it is because they are short-staffed and I understand they're quite new staff as well so to be able to do something like this in a traumatic situation is great work," he said.

Hanlon said there had been a large increase in "hangings" in prisons across the country, with 12 inmates doing so in 2011 - double the 2010 figure - as a result of risks introduced through double-bunking.

All prisons in New Zealand are double-bunked.

In an inquest carried out in July by Coroner Katharine Greig into the suicide of prisoner Greg Mills in 2009, she criticised the Corrections Department for prisoners taking their lives.

Mills was discovered dead as a remand prisoner in his cell at the now-closed Mount Eden Men's Prison on November 30, 2009.

He faced 28 charges in Auckland District Court relating to 11 men and three women - seven of whom became infected with HIV.

Greig said six separate findings between 1998 and 2005 by fellow coroner Sarn Herdson recommended that Corrections modify cells to prevent hangings.

Corrections did not make the modifications, saying the age of the prison made it impossible and there were numerous other "hanging points" in cells anyway.

"It is extremely concerning to this court that over a period of 15 years the Department of Corrections did not address the clearly identified and recognised risk," she said in her ruling.

The new facility at Mt Eden Corrections Facility - which is run privately by Serco - claimed to reduce the risk of hanging.

Prison authorities have also been criticised by psychologist Roger Brooking after new figures released in October 2012 showed serious assaults and unnatural deaths in custody were "higher than expected".

Coroner Ian Smith's report into the suicide of prisoner Kerry Joll at Rimutaku Prison, released in October, recommended Corrections improve information systems so that the computer file of any prisoner known to be a suicide risk brings up a warning flag.

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Joll, a ten-time drink-driver sentenced to 14 months in jail, was found dead in his cell in May 2011.

He failed to disclose to prison staff he had tried to kill himself twice before and had been allowed to stop taking his medication.

The Department responded to the report by saying: "Improving our current information systems is regarded as not worth the benefits it would bring because of cost, complexity and proportionately few incidents it would benefit."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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