Guards forgot prisoner and visitor

Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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Rimutaka Prison guards forgot about a high-security inmate who was supposed to be back in his cell, and then tried to cover up their mistake.

The prisoner, classified as "high-medium", was being visited by his partner on Tuesday in a non-contact booth with a piece of toughened glass separating them.

But at 4.30pm the guards on duty decided to go home early, turned the lights off and forgot the pair were still locked in the room. They were not discovered for three hours.

Without checking, the six guards and a senior staff member filled in a logbook stating the prisoner had been returned to his unit.

Back in the unit, which is supposed to be locked down at 5pm, another senior staff member signed off on a logbook stating the prisoner was accounted for.

The prisoner's partner, realising they had been forgotten, smashed an observation window to get out of the room, but was unable to escape.

It is understood the woman, who had travelled from Opotiki for the visit, had dropped her children at a nearby swimming pool, which rang police when she failed to turn up to collect them.

The pair were eventually discovered about 7.30pm when another prisoner heard their yells. A sole supervision officer in charge of the jail in the evenings went to investigate and found them.

After the blunder, one of the senior staff in the prisoner's unit tried to use Twink to alter the time in the logbook when the prisoner finally arrived back.

The Corrections Department refused to provide details about the checks and protocols that were not followed during the incident, but it is understood they include:

A failure to check the visitor logbook and ensure all persons had signed out.

A failure of the guards at the meeting room complex to check all rooms for prisoners and visitors.

A failure of the same guards to account for the prisoner's whereabouts.

A failure to check the prisoner was in his cell during lockdown.

Rimutaka Prison manager Richard Symonds confirmed the incident and said correct procedure had not been followed when logging visitors out of prison.

The prisoner's partner had travelled a considerable distance and had been approved an extra half-hour of visiting time, he said.

"We deeply regret the distress caused to this visitor . . . Corrections has robust policies around visits, and this goes completely against our policies. These policies were reinforced as recently as January this year and promulgated to staff."

An investigation had begun and he had apologised to both the visitor and prisoner. He refused to comment on further aspects of the incident and whether any staff had been suspended.

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This month The Dominion Post revealed one Rimutaka Prison guard had resigned and another had been suspended after they allowed a gang member to order pizza from his hospital bed.

The prisoner ordered the pizza from the senior guard's cellphone.

He assaulted another guard the next day after he refused to provide the same service.

- The Dominion Post

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