Rise in Manawatu prison staff assaults bucks national trend
Manawatu Prison staff have been subjected to an increasing number of assaults at a time when there's a national trend of improving staff safety in prisons.
The number of assaults against prison staff nationwide dropped from 354 in 2011/12 to 321 in 2013/14. But at Manawatu Prison the number of assaults almost doubled, from 10 in 2011/12 to 19 in 2013/14.
The big driver in those numbers is what the Department of Corrections describes as "no-injury" assaults - acts of physical violence that do not result in injuries or require medical treatment.
They rose from six to 13.
There were 40 assaults on Manawatu Prison staff from 2011 to 2014, though none were sexual assaults or attacks requiring overnight stays in hospital or extended medical treatment.
The rate of attacks on staff at Arohata Prison in Tawa, the closest women's prison to Manawatu, has stayed largely steady. There were no serious assaults and two non-serious assaults each year from 2011/12, and just two non-injury assaults.
National commissioner of corrections services Jeremy Lightfoot said the department had a "zero tolerance" policy towards assaults behind bars, both prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff.
"We manage some of New Zealand's most difficult and challenging citizens. Therefore, violence is always a risk as many offenders resort to aggressive behaviour as a means of resolving issues and expressing themselves."
Corrections staff were trained in various de-escalation techniques to give them tools to solve conflicts, which would hopefully keep prisoners in a non-violent state, he said. "The goal is always to manage a potentially volatile situation in a manner that minimises the likelihood of provoking a violent response."
But if things do get physical, prison staff have tools at their disposal.
Lightfoot said they had access to stab-resistant vests, pepper spray and "spit hoods" - mesh bags that prevent inmates from spitting.
"When an incident occurs, staff assess the situation to determine the best course of resolution."
If pepper spray is used, the prisoner is cleaned up by staff and assessed by a nurse, he says.
Lightfoot said staff had been given tactical-exit training for certain situations.
On-body cameras are to be put on staff in high-risk environments in prisons after successful trials at Auckland and Rimutaka prisons.
The trial cut prisoner-related incidents by at least 15 per cent, Lightfoot said.
"The majority of prisoners interviewed believed the cameras had enhanced the safety of everyone in the units."
Prisoners who attacked staff could either be charged by police with assault, or charged through the prison internal misconduct system, Lightfoot said.
"We take strong action to ensure that prisoners are held to account for their behaviour whenever they use violence."
- Manawatu Standard