Assaults at the Otago Corrections Facility are
increasing, despite extra efforts to protect prisoners and
staff from violence.
Data from the Department of Corrections shows assaults at the
prison, near Milton, have risen each financial year to 57 in
the 12 months to June 30, 2012.
At least 125 assaults have occurred at the jail since it
opened in 2007.
The prisoner population has also increased from 40 in June
2007 to 427 as at January 22 this year.
But the ratio of assaults to prisoners has steadily increased
to the point where in the 12 months to June 30, 2012, there
was an incident of assault for about every seven prisoners,
including the 60-odd on remand.
Prison manager Jack Harrison said violence on site was
taken seriously and, like all Corrections officers, custodial
staff at the Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) were trained to
manage difficult situations.
''We will not tolerate prisoners using violence against
anyone, whether it is against staff or another prisoner. A
prisoner responsible for an assault will be held to account
for their actions.''
Corrections had introduced pepper spray in prisons, increased
tactical training and personal protective equipment for
custodial staff (stab-resistant vests and ''spit hoods'') and
developed a new staff safety action plan to be implemented
this year, Mr Harrison said.
It would see front-line staff at the prison receive
''tactical exit training'' to help them deal with potentially
violent situations and allow all prison staff access to
pepper spray, which they were being trained to use.
''Additionally, custodial staff have received specialist
training in tactical communications to de-escalate volatile
incidents and manage non-compliant prisoners,'' Mr Harrison
It was impossible to prevent all assaults.
''While the efforts we make to ensure risks are mitigated,
there will be some occasions where assaults occur.
''Despite our sincerest intentions, we cannot prevent all
assaults and no jurisdiction in the world has achieved
this,'' he said.
Of all assaults at the OCF, 13 between prisoners were
classified as serious, comprising violence which involved
either sexual assault of any form or degree, or bodily harm
requiring medical treatment followed by overnight
hospitalisation or extended periods of ongoing medical
A further 38 assaults involving prisoners resulted in some
form of injury but were not classified as serious, and 34
incidents were termed non-injury assaults.
In the 2011-12 financial year, there was one serious assault
involving a prisoner and staff member, after two such
incidents in the previous financial year.
Since 2009, there had been 16 prisoner assaults on staff
resulting in some form of injury, and a further 21 non-injury
assaults involving staff.
Corrections Services assistant general manager Maria McDonald
said the prevention of assaults on staff and prisoners
nationwide continued to be a key focus for the department.
Staff were trained and equipped to avoid violent incidents
and to minimise harm on the ''rare'' occasions when assaults
occurred, she said.
''Unfortunately, even the best-trained and equipped staff can
be subjected to random acts of violence. Such incidents are a
reminder of the volatile environment our front-line staff
face each day and our obligation to keep them safe wherever
Corrections had about 4000 front-line staff working with
about 8500 prisoners on a daily basis throughout the country.
In the 2011-12 financial year, there were 1216 prison
assaults in New Zealand, 66 of which were classified as
serious and 356 of which involved staff.
The highest number of assaults at a prison in that time was
at the Mt Eden Corrections Facility (170).
Other prisons where more than 100 assaults occurred in the
2011-12 financial year were Paremoremo (102), Christchurch
(109), Northland (102), Rimutaka (113) and Waikeria (102).
Corrections said it was not possible to directly compare the
number of assaults by prison site because of the difference
in capacity and security classification.
''While acts of violence are never acceptable, the actual
number of serious assaults is relatively low, and a testament
to the skill and professionalism of staff to control the
physical prison environment,'' Ms McDonald said.
Prisoners deemed to be at risk were segregated and inmates
could request segregation.
In addition to internal misconduct charges, all serious
assaults were referred to police for investigation.
Corrections declined to provide detailed information about
In 2009, it reviewed its classification of assaults, so some
data collated before 2009 was not included in the
department's release of information under the Official
Information Act because it was not deemed comparable with