'We're trying to keep inmates alive' - defiant Corrections boss

The head of Corrections is backing the use of restraints on mentally ill prisoners, after an Ombudsman report criticised prison officers for breaching the UN Convention against Torture.

Five prisoners at risk of self-harm were tied to their beds or held with waist restraints, the new report found. One inmate was tied to his bed for 37 consecutive nights.

Chief executive Ray Smith told The AM Show that Corrections staff are often left with no other option but to put people in restraints.

"It sounds extreme, and it is extreme when you're dealing with someone that's banging their head on the wall, trying to tear open their wounds or infect their wounds or attempting to take their lives," he says.

Corrections did try to get the prisoner restrained for 37 nights admitted to the Mason Clinic - Auckland's high security psychiatric unit - but Mr Smith says they were not prepared to admit him.

"There's often a tension between ourselves and [psychiatric units] with these prisoners at the apex of the system.

"And to be fair it's not easy to manage them even if they are in the mental health system because these are people that will attack and assault people.

"I do want to impress on people we're trying to keep these people alive, when they're trying to take their lives, and sometimes they're trying to take the lives of my staff," he told The AM Show.

"I've got to keep people alive, otherwise I'm going to end up in a coroner's court explaining why we didn't use all the things at our disposal."

He says the Ombudsman's report shows what Corrections has to do now is to improve on following procedures in such cases with at-risk prisoners.

Mr Smith says Corrections has developed a plan to help solve many of the problems related to at-risk prisoners, including:

  • A $300m redevelopment of New Zealand's maximum security facility at Paremoremo
  • An investment of $14m in mental health services delivered by teams of contracted mental health workers to work in prisons
  • Social workers and counsellors in women's prisons to help with rehabilitation
  • A new approach to managing at-risk prisoners to improve therapeutic treatment