Serco staff member asked to leave after Corrections finds he'd served time
A man working for private jail firm Serco was asked to leave a course last week after he admitted having previous convictions and serving a custodial sentence.
Critics say the case highlights potential issues with Serco's hiring practices, and the relationship between that company and the Department of Corrections.
But Serco says the staffer involved had never hidden his past, and used his own experience to improve the lives of inmates.
Vincent Arbuckle, a Corrections deputy chief executive, said the employee was asked to leave a course at Corrections' Rimutaka Prison near Wellington last week "for safety reasons".
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This came after the man admitted having "previous convictions, including a custodial sentence".
Arbuckle said Serco had different hiring policies from Corrections.
A recent agreement meant Serco had to consult with the department about any employees who did not meet Corrections' own recruitment standards in relation to criminal convictions.
However, Serco hired the man before that agreement was implemented, Arbuckle said.
Criminologist Trevor Bradley, from Victoria University's Institute of Criminology, said the revelation was a surprising one and raised multiple concerns.
"If we want to reduce rates of recidivism in New Zealand, then we do have to have an open mind in terms of employment opportunities ...
"That said, I would have some issues about ex-cons being hired to work in prisons.
"You don't want prison officers with connections to those they're supposed to be guarding."
He said New Zealand jails already had issues with contraband, and hiring people with potential connections to inmates could exacerbate risks around smuggling.
Labour corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis said prison authorities needed to explain what safety concerns they had about the man.
"Serco needs to beef up their employment practices, and if Corrections is going to be training Serco staff, at the taxpayer's expense, Corrections need to do due diligence on the people they are training."
Davis said Corrections was "splitting hairs" and trying to distance itself from Serco.
"So it is true that Serco employed a former prisoner, and Corrections had him on a professional development course."
Mike Inglis, prison director at Kohuora Auckland South, where the man was based, said: "Many businesses are celebrated for giving former offenders a second chance in life by offering them employment.
"Supported by appropriate security measures, Serco firmly believes in providing former offenders that same opportunity.
"The staff member has never hidden his past, but has chosen to use his life experience to make a similar change in the lives of the men in Kohuora."
Inglis said the man was "thoroughly risk assessed" on factors including the length of time since his conviction, and the qualifications he had.
The Government said on Tuesday that it was launching the second stage of a $15.3 million initiative to help offenders prepare for, find and stay in work, and reduce reoffending.