Former inmate exposes prison violence
Saturday 22 Sep 2012 6:48 p.m.
By Amanda Gillies
On Thursday, 3 News uncovered allegations a prisoner at Mt Eden was raped with a broom by three other inmates.
Now, a former inmate who now helps prisoners with their legal appeals says there needs to be a major overhaul of the prison system to curb violence behind bars.
Martin Lyttleton treasures his time walking in the fresh country air – for three years the Auckland businessman didn't have that simple luxury. He was jailed for attempted murder.
In 2008, he had a breakdown and shot a former business associate and the associate's girlfriend.
Life behind bars was dangerous.
“When I was in Paremoremo I was attacked by a mad Chinese drug dealer,” he says. “He attacked me and he was obviously very fit – broke my wrist.”
Violence, he said, was rife, especially in the Auckland Central Remand Prison where King Cobra gang members ruled.
“They were running fight clubs in the mainstream units, so a lot of people were getting bashed up in that fight club-type scenario. In some cases the guards were actually sanctioning assaults by inmates on other inmates.
“They were conscious that an assault was going to take place. [They would] leave the unit, the assault would occur, then they would come back into the unit afterwards and it was discussed amongst the inmates that it was a guard-sanction assault.”
He tried to do something about it.
“I made complaints. I stood up and made complaints and was viewed as a troublemaker by the unit manager in the unit that I was in. As a result I was transferred to Wanganui Prison for about two months. As soon as I got transferred back, I continued to complain about what I was seeing. I was disgusted.”
There were few programmes or rehabilitation courses, and so he said the inmates were bored and looked for trouble.
“That was really the tragedy for me – just seeing the lost opportunity to actually feed the brains of these people while they are in jail. So a lot of violence [occurred] because of that boredom.”
Drugs fuelled the problem, much of it, he said, smuggled in not just by visitors.
“The talk was a lot of drugs came in with the guards. [There was] a lot of focus picking up drugs coming in with visitors when probably the reality is a lot of the drugs came in with guards.”
3 News put the allegations to Corrections who said historical complaints were easy to make but difficult to investigate. Staff weren't aware Lyttleton had raised the issues while in prison but said he did complain about the food. They had investigated the fight club but said the claims couldn't be substantiated. And last year a programme was introduced to help staff meet a high standard of professional conduct.
Since his release from jail, Lyttleton has studied for a law degree and helped inmates with their appeals. He has also written a paper for the Howard League for Penal Reform.
He believes New Zealand should adopt the systems used in Canada, Finland and the UK, which concentrate on rehabilitating prisoners and reintegrating them into society. That would give inmates hope and reduce violent incidents.