Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga probably thought he was having a bad day on Wednesday. But things keep getting worse.
The minister has been thrown under a train by his department after it confirmed serious incidents at Mt Eden prison that, if not entirely proving allegations by Labour MP Kelvin Davis about a cover-up over the death of another prisoner, point to exactly the sort of standover tactics and violence that he claims to be rife at the privately-run prison.
Those allegations include an inmate being chased off a landing before being assaulted by another inmate and hospitalised with leg and ankle fractures.
It’s hard to know what is truth, and what isn’t. Some of the allegations are false (such as being thrown off a balcony) while some such as the fight club are proven. Because it is a private prison, it has political enemies who are determined to do everything possible to undermine it.
The nature of prisons which house the most violent and recidivist offenders in society means that there will always be some violent incidents between prisoners. Unless you keep every prisoner in solitary 24/7.
The Mount Eden Corrections Facility has been ranked the top performing prison of the 17 prisons in NZ.
They are contracted to ensure assault are below a certain level (0.9 per 100 prisoners) or they get fined and eventually could lose the contract.
As far as I can see the Government hasn’t released data on what the assault rate is at Mt Eden, and how it compares to the other 16 prisons. This would be useful to allow us to judge if there is an issue at Mt Eden.
Now the assault rate is only one measure. As I said some assaults are unavoidable. The key thing is are staff acting to stop them as soon as possible, and take preventative measures when they know of a high risk. The fight club videos suggest they have not, and there needs to be real scrutiny of what has happened there (and it is being investigated).
The other allegations are not yet substantiated. They also need to be investigated, but I’d be cautious about assuming every allegation is correct.
The Government’s political response hasn’t been adequate. It should have out there the data on comparative assault rates in prisons. It shouldn’t be last to hear about these allegations.