Serco's prison fight clubs might have spread to Wiri - Labour

A fight at Mt Eden prison (YouTube)
A fight at Mt Eden prison (YouTube)

Corrections will come under intense scrutiny from now on from the Chief Ombudsman following a damning report into the Serco-run Mt Eden prison, and in the face of more allegations of fight clubs.

Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier says his office will be putting more resources into watching over the department following a law change last year.

"It is a fundamental tenet of democracy that prisoners should be detained in humane conditions, appropriately supervised and treated fairly and in a manner consistent with their legal rights," he says.

Judge Boshier's office will be able to undertake formal inspections or unannounced visits, with inspectors able to talk to prisoners.

The crackdown comes after Labour made fresh allegations of organised fights at the second Serco-run prison in Wiri, south Auckland.

Speaking to Paul Henry on Friday morning, MP Phil Twyford said there's growing evidence the blight has spread to the facility.

"Information is beginning to come out of Wiri that indicates there is organised violence going on, and I think you'll be hearing more about that."

The party's Corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis says the allegations of "contender fights" need to be properly investigated.

"Several sources have revealed the organised gang fights are still ongoing and the damaging impact on prisoners have raised concerns for staff at Serco-run prisons and non-Serco run prisons as no one seems to know what to do about it. Early investigations have failed to get to the truth," he says.

Mr Davis says he told the head of Corrections of the allegations, who "replied almost immediately" that it had been investigating and "the fights weren't happening".

Serco lost its contract to run Mt Eden in December, after it emerged prisoners were engaging in organised fighting, while staff turned a blind eye. Contraband was also rife, with the Corrections Chief Inspector saying it could only have been supplied by prison officers.

The Government has always maintained Wiri, which Serco has a 25-year contract to run, has not suffered the same problems. Minister of Corrections Judith Collins - who awarded Serco the contract to run Mt Eden - says she's been to Wiri and it's doing just fine.

"Corrections has told me [the allegations are] false," she told Paul Henry.

"There's always going to be instances when the heads of criminal gangs who are violent - and this is what they do outside before they come into prison, they run fight clubs - they come in, they do it and it's got to be stopped and knocked on the head right away, excuse the pun. I can tell you it's being sorted."

Then-Minister of Corrections Sam Lotu-Iiga said much the same thing in December, when Serco was ousted from Mt Eden.

"This has been an absolute disaster for National's policy of privatising prisons," said Mr Twyford.

"It couldn't be more of an indictment to have organised fight clubs going on while prison officers are playing pool and table tennis."

Serco ended up paying $8 million to Corrections to cover the cost of taking over the prison.

The company's chief executive officer Mark Irwin on Thursday said he was "truly sorry" for letting its standards fall "below levels which our customer, the Department of Corrections, the Minister of Corrections and the people of New Zealand had a right to expect".

Prime Minister John Key admitted in hindsight Serco was "the wrong choice" to run Mt Eden, but won't cancel the Wiri contract over fears of legal action.

"Philosophically, I think there's a place for private and public prisons and they hold each other to account - and everything we see in Wiri so far, it's a very successful combination."