Revelations about “fight clubs” and other problems at MECF ( operated by the private prison company Serco ) that became public this week , were no surprise to me or anyone with knowledge of the prison.
Most of MECF’s prisoners are remands, but when they are convicted, all with a Maximum security classification and many High security are transferred to Auckland Prison. About 6 months ago, many of those arriving told me they were glad to be out of MECF and glad to be at Pare.
This is a complete reversal of the normal process , especially for prisoners from the South Island , who are fearful of coming to Pare because of its reputation for violence. As the country’s only Maximum security prison, it has the harshest and most restrictive conditions of any.
Some had never been in prison before and were genuinely shocked at their experiences at MECF . I was told the most common complaints were that the place was seriously understaffed . i.e. When prisoners had a problem, guards were either unavailable or not interested in assisting .
Compounding the lack of staff was that many of the staff sat around all day playing cards or talking. Many had reached their “use by” date and had no interest in doing their job . The gangs are running the place and in fact staff were getting gang members to threaten and intimidate and beat up other prisoners who had complained about how prison was being run. In turn, those guards turned a blind eye to those gang members’ activities, such as standing over other prisoners, bringing in contraband and organising the fight clubs the public found out about this week .
These fight clubs were well known to everyone who has been at MECF over the past 2 years. Guards are supposed to carry out a quota of prisoner searches each day and were simply recording they had been done when they hadn’t , or picking on non gang members or compliant prisoners to search. They would ignore gang members & others who mat argue or resist .
While not as out of control as Serco, we also have problems with the Public Service as well. In the same week the Serco problems became public, Nikki Roper , a prisoner in D Block at Pare Max, suffered life threatening injuries and was admitted to North Shore hospital . Status 1 . Reportedly , one of the Staff said “It was the most blood I’ve ever seen”.
I’ve never seen the public system more violent . It’s caused by the stupid smoking ban brought in in July 2011. That ban was held to be inhumane and unlawful in 2 High Court cases I brought .
Don’t expect the inspectors report will be anything other than a whitewash . They are NOT independent ; being appointed and paid by Corrections. Any Inquiry should be by the Ombudsman or an independent QC , as occured with the Inquiry into the canterbury Goon Squad several years ago .
At the leat the SERCO prison director should be sacked, because there is no way he can have been ignorant as to most of what was going on.
Arthur Taylor is a Prisoner Rights activist and current Prisoner.