Lotu-Iiga tells Serco to 'come clean' on violence

Sam Lotu-Iiga (Simon Wong/3 News)
Sam Lotu-Iiga (Simon Wong/3 News)

Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga is confident he'll keep his job, despite being caught on the back foot over allegations of prison fight clubs, drug use and a fatal hazing incident.

Labour's Kelvin Davis says private prison operator Serco is making a fool out of Mr Lotu-Iiga. The minister wasn't given a year-old report on prison violence until Saturday last week, after videos of bad behaviour inside Serco-run Mt Eden Prison emerged online.

In May, a gang fight escalated into prisoners barricading themselves in cells and a crisis team had to be called in and inmates moved to Paremoremo. Mr Lotu-Iiga wasn't told about this incident until yesterday.

"The cover-ups… of information and evidence and things that have happened is just rampant," Mr Davis told RadioLIVE, who places the blame on the National Party's introduction of profit-oriented private prisons, run by UK-based Serco.

"It's all financial. It's not in their financial interests to say that they've had all these incidents – they'll be fined or money will be taken off them. And it costs millions and millions of dollars."

Speaking on the Paul Henry programme this morning, Mr Lotu-Iiga said the violence and alleged cover-ups had nothing to do with "ideology", and according to Corrections, the May incident wasn't a riot under the terms of Serco's contract.

"Our prisons are dangerous right across this country – we're dealing with some of the most dangerous, volatile people in our society. That's why they're behind prison [sic]," he says.

"Assaults, serious assaults, they don't just happen at Serco – they happen all around this country. Our job in Corrections is to stop this happening."

He says if Serco has been deliberately hiding evidence of violence behind bars, there will be "serious consequences" – but it's too early to say if the contract will be torn up.

"There are a number of clauses in the contract – fines, there's penalties – but it's too early at this stage to make that a conclusion. Let's see the review and then we'll form our conclusion."

One of the most serious claims involves the death of an inmate earlier this year. Mr Davis says Nick Evans was thrown off a balcony in a hazing ritual known as 'dropping', and Mr Lotu-Iiga was told about this at a select committee a month ago.

Mr Lotu-Iiga however says he heard the term 'dropping' for the first time last week, but admits Mr Davis did indeed bring up Mr Evans' death last month.

"Nothing was mentioned in the select committee about dropping – he did mention allegations about people being thrown over balconies," says Mr Lotu-Iiga.

"I asked Mr Davis if it was such a concern, why hasn't he brought any evidence since he brought it up at select committee? That's because he has none. We all know he's playing politics."

Mr Lotu-Iiga has also admitted a meeting with Serco bosses this morning wasn't specifically called in response to the allegations, but part of their regular meeting schedule. Nonetheless, he plans to use today's catch-up to express the need for better communication between the company, Corrections and himself.

"All I'm asking them to do is come clean with me, the Department of Corrections, but especially with the people of New Zealand," he says.

"I have not been communicated certain information before it's hit the media. I wouldn't say they've hidden things from me – they just haven't elevated things."

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith's job is safe for now, with Mr Lotu-Iiga saying it wasn't his fault last year's report on violence didn't reach his desk until the weekend just been – because Mr Smith didn't get the report until then either.

"I've got confidence in Ray Smith… [but he] needs to talk to his staff about when that report should have been elevated, and it should have been elevated a lot earlier than last week."

He says he's spoken to Prime Minister John Key, and told him he has "undertaken a fix-it".

"There are reviews in place, and I will be outlining my expectations and the expectations of New Zealanders to Serco this morning about what they need to do to fix this."

Mr Lotu-Iiga is challenging Mr Davis to provide "some concrete evidence, some affidavits or any evidence" his claims are true.

Mr Davis says he will be revealing "more shocking details" about violence behind the walls of Mt Eden Prison today.

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