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Killed prison guard knew he wasn't safe

Monday 17 May 2010 4:57 p.m.

By Jane Luscombe

Prison officer Jason Palmer confided in his colleagues about fears for his safety in the weeks before he died.

He'd even talked about getting a transfer from the Waikato prison where he'd only been working six months.

Mr Palmer was still learning the ropes at Springhill Prison, but one thing he'd grasped early on was that he didn't feel safe.

When confronted with a dangerous inmate, the prison union says he was ill-prepared and managers were to blame.

"From three months ago when he started playing up, right through to the moment before they opened the door on a maximum security prisoner in a low security prison," says Bevan Hanlon, president of the Corrections Association.

The inmate accused of punching Mr Palmer had been reassigned as a maximum security prisoner the day before.

"From there he should have been placed in a van immediately and sent to [Paremoremo Prison]," says Mr Hanlon.

Instead, the union claims there was a catalogue of failings that led to the death.

A response team to deal with violent prisoners was unavailable ; a special unit to house them had been closed for refurbishment;  two attempts to move the man to a high security prison had failed; and the officers had not been briefed properly on how to handle him.

"The top down should be taking responsibility for the fact this corrections officer is no longer here, this family has no father," says Mr Hanlon.

"This is the first corrections officer that's died in the line of duty," says Prime Minister John Key. "That tells you this is not something that occurs all the time, so it doesn't indicate there's been a systemic problem."

In other prisons, violent inmates are ordered to the back of the cell, on their knees, with their hands behind their heads, before the door is opened.

If they move, it's slammed shut before they can react. That didn't happen at Springhill.

The prisoner accused of the attack appeared in Hamilton district court today, flanked by four guards.

Mr Palmer had talked to fellow prison officers about getting a transfer, although it's not that easy. Six other officers have recently taken demotions and pay cuts to move away from Springhill, but time ran out for the father-of-two.

3 News
If you would like to donate to the Parker family, you can do so via BNZ bank account 020560 0012413 028.

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