Six-hour prison standoff 'minor'

Last updated 15:05 04/06/2014

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A "minor" standoff at Mt Eden Prison last week lasted for six hours and officers were called in from three other prisons to contain the situation, MPs have been told.

The Corrections Department has refused to give details of an "incident" that occurred last Thursday, but Corrections Minister Anne Tolley told the parliamentary law and order select committee today that it involved up to 10 prisoners protesting against the move of a fellow prisoner.

The prison is run by private company Serco.

A spokeswoman said last week that it was "localised" and there was no threat to the public.
Tolley said the incident was "minor", and no-one was injured.

"First of all, it wasn't a significant incident. It was a prisoner who was due to be moved because his classification had dropped," she said.

"He decided he didn't want to go and he involved a whole lot more [prisoners], so it was a small incident and it was well contained."

She said some prisoners had barricaded themselves into an area.

"And there were a large number of prisoners who wanted no part of it and went and locked themselves in their own cells," she said.

"Where you have a situation like this, the worst risk in a prison is fire because you have a lot of people who are locked away and can't get out."

Tolley rejected criticism that officers from three other prisons had to be brought in to help deal with the incident.

It was "wise and safe" to have plans in place to have the whole service react.

"We have a prison service and it doesn't matter to me whether it's public or private," she said.

"We respond to incidents as a prison service because that's what's expected."

Labour corrections spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said details of the event suggested it was anything but minor.

"Staff from three other facilities, including Spring Hill, Auckland Prison and Auckland Women's Prison, were called in to assist," she said.

"Mt Eden, run by Serco, came under the spotlight last year after reports new recruits were leaving after just months in the job because of safety fears.

"It has been suggested this latest incident occurred due to a lack of staff. If this is the case, then it appears that New Zealand's public corrections service is having to pick up the pieces for a private company which has cut corners to ensure its shareholders benefit.

"If staffing levels at Mt Eden are deficient, then that is Serco's problem and it must be rectified. It should contribute to the cost of managing any disturbances it needs taxpayer-funded help in resolving." 

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