GUEST BLOG: Arthur Taylor – What’s really going on inside Serco from a Prisoner



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 .

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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.


  1. Thanks for that view from the inside. We lock up people who obviously have very serious personal and psychological problems, and naively expect that imprisonment will somehow “fix” those problems.

    I suggest it’s past time for a totally fresh look at the problem of serious crime, what the root causes are, and the best ways to deal with it. continuing on with nineteenth century policies is patently STUPID.

  2. Not trying to devalue what you are saying, but claims that gangs run the prisons were common stories long before Serco ever got here. Was this the truth or was it just a media beat-up? And assuming it was true – has it got worse since Serco got involved?

    • i have spoken with a pot-grower who served time in a gummint prison and in (serco) mt eden..

      he said serco mt eden was extremely scary – ‘cos of the really light staffing – he said that prisoners run the place..beating/whatever at will..

  3. I’d love to know how much SERCO kicked back to the Nats as koha for winning the contract. I think we should be told.

  4. Arthur, just a couple of questions, i know you cannot answer them now but you might be able to enlighten me in a future Post,

    Just to clarify the staffing levels in A, B, and, C Blocks as i haven’t done a lag for a decade or two,

    In the 70’s and 80’s there was pretty much 2 screws in each Block,(per 48 crims), and a third to operate the sally port into the yard at lunchtime and on weekends, has the number of screws gone up,

    And, have they reconfigured those Blocks by cutting off every 6 cells with a grill???,

    The other concerns the Roper assault, my understanding was that to go anywhere from a D Block cell, including the yards, it was 3 screws to 1 crim there and back,

    Has this now been changed, i know there was ‘supposedly’ some changes to the D Block ‘regime’ a while back, if this is so, have such changes facilitated the ability of those who have a mind to, to put the bash on each other,

    Cheers my friend, stay free…

  5. Where money is a motive for running a “essential service” as a prison is supposed to be then the rot sets in.

    You know, “cut a bit here and there” in order to meet the investors expectations of returns on their investment target.

    So who looses are the interns, and we the taxpayer.

    So privatisation experiments of “essential services” will always ultimately fail.

    Change this stupid clumsy Government. = fix the problem.

  6. going off the subject here a little but in my opinion the gang fights are the least of their worry’s. Im not saying that its not important but what I am trying to say is that there are more things to worry about like getting prisoners the right rehabilitation and not withholding it from them or pushing back the dates. some times the basic needs of men and women in prison arnt even met from simple hygiene routines to basic dietary requirements the list goes on…
    but if inmates were given time consuming work to do like building not just houses for chch but toys for the less unfortunate children or things for the community to enjoy. maybe bring in certain teachers to teach them how to speak read and write maybe even certified trades men to teach them job skills.
    I think there will be less down time for them which from my point of view ……occupied minds, occupied time, less tension, boredom and frustration = less fights or gang retaliation….. keep them busy !

  7. So this government is still quite happy that our prisons do not meet basic UN standards. No real surprise there I guess.

    But Joe public needs to know this shit because all they get from the Tories is meaningless platitudes and deliberate misinformation.

    Please vote these fuckers out before more people die, either from fight club, dropping, living in cold damp houses or starvation from sanctioned benefits.

    Those on the bottom are all the same whether they are prisoners, beneficiaries or zero hour workers.

    Neo-liberalism hates ’em all…

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