A prisoner support person is worried for an Auckland inmate's safety after a Corrections officer's use of force allegedly culminated in him breaking his nose, losing consciousness and his blood going "everywhere".
The incident occurred at Auckland South Corrections Facility (ASCF) in House Block 1 just after 9am on Wednesday.
The support person, who asked not to be named, told Newshub they received an "unusual" phone call from a "very distressed" prisoner after he'd allegedly witnessed his cellmate being attacked.
"He was so upset, I have never heard him like that, he could barely talk - he was hyperventilating so much," the support person said.
The prisoner told them a group of officers had entered their cell that morning to tell them they were being moved.
He claimed his cellmate was facing the window with his back to the officers when he turned around to ask why. It was then that he was apparently "rushed" by the officers.
The prisoner told the support person an officer proceeded to punch his cellmate in the face and head, describing it as an "uppercut", and said he heard the cellmate's nose break.
"There was blood everywhere," he told the support person.
He says a female officer was yelling "no cameras, no cameras" and instructed the other officers not to have their cameras on.
New Zealand's correctional facilities have CCTV cameras around the facility, but not in cells because it would be a breach of privacy. However, officers must turn their body cameras on every time they enter a cell.
The prisoner says his cellmate was dragged out of the cell to the medical facility on-site while he was locked in his cell.
The support person told Newshub they are "very worried" for the inmate's safety.
The prison is operated by Serco, who admitted in a statement to Newshub that a "use of force incident" had occurred.
However they say it came about because the prisoner had "disobeyed a lawful order to move to another cell".
"Staff were instructed to turn their on-body cameras on, which is standard procedure. The prisoner refused to be checked by a member of the health team, which is also standard after a use of force incident, so we were unable to confirm any injuries."
Serco said all use of force incidents are reviewed after the event to ensure the actions were lawful and appropriate.
Police confirmed that they had received a report on Wednesday morning of an alleged assault at Kiwi Tamaki Rd in the suburb of Wiri, the same road ASCF is located on.
They said after initial enquiries were made, they determined the incident was a matter for Serco rather than police.
The support person says they were assured there was no disobedience, and instead just raised voices over why they were suddenly moved. They questioned whether the level of violence from the officer would be warranted even if the prisoner did disobey orders.
The support person noted neither of the prisoners in the cell had been incarcerated on violent charges.
"We are definitely not meant to be assaulting prisoners because that makes us, the public, just the same as the people we lock up for assaulting other people," the support person said.
"There is no justification for hitting anybody… It's unacceptable behaviour."
Prison reform group the Sir Peter Williams Penal Reform League said in a statement it condemns the actions of these prison officers and any who "use illegal tactics to assault prisoners".
The league's co-president Lady Heeni Phillips-Williams told Newshub she was appalled to hear about the incident.
"When a prisoner is sentenced and imprisoned they are there just to serve their sentence. They are there just for that," Lady Heeni said on behalf of the group.
"They should not expect to be attacked or assaulted by another prisoner or a prison officer whilst in prison."
"Some officers turn a blind eye to this type of dysfunctionalism and violence and fail to report it to the directors. As a consequence, the prison will continue to operate inadequately under the rule of law. "
She said questions must be raised to the South Auckland Prison director to encourage accountability, transparency and discourage the "appalling violence" in New Zealand prisons.
While she acknowledges the prison does some great work with its prisoners, Lady Heeni says "bad apples must be pruned from the tree to allow the prison to flourish".