Misbehaving, violent prisoners told they're 'naughty boys' but not being punished - union

Inmates are getting away with violence because they're not being punished for it, prison staff say.

Assaults against prison staff have been rising in recent years, no matter which way you measure it. Attacks that left staff needing hospital care have nearly doubled since 2016, and assaults overall have gone up from 5.3 per 100 prisoners to 8.95. 

National MP Simeon Brown has called for a Government inquiry, which the Justice Select Committee - dominated by Labour - rejected, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis saying he was working with the union on a plan to de-escalate the violence.

"The assault rates on Corrections officers have just escalated, it's way too high," Corrections Association president Alan Whitley told Newshub. "We needed to do something to drive it back down."

Instant punishments for misbehaving prisoners are one suggestion they've come up with, and making sentence extensions easier to get. Whitley said the current guidelines were last updated in 2004, and don't hold prisoners to account for their actions.

"They would have an indiscretion - it might be a push or a shove of a staff member - instead of having some sort of tangible outcome, all that was happening is they were cautioned and advised - basically being told they were naughty boys and they shouldn't do it. 

"We're dealing with violent people - you can't deal with them that way." 

Tear gas is another option, 1 News reports; as well as getting more staff; better personal protective equipment for those looking after more dangerous prisoners; new body cameras; and reducing the amount of online training staff do, bringing back more "hands-on, practical" lessons.

"We're dealing with a different type of prisoner now - they're a lot more violent, a lot more volatile, a lot more organised, so we need to have a look at staffing ratios as well," said Whitley. 

The ideas were hashed out between the union and Corrections. 

Davis told 1 News he was "open to doing what we need to do to keep [staff] safe".

Since becoming Corrections Minister, Davis has focused on bringing New Zealand's prison population down, saying too many Māori have been incarcerated in the past. It's dropped about 15 percent since the start of 2020, the first significant drop in decades. 

In March he ordered a review of the treatment of imprisoned women, saying staff were using excessive force against them as if they were men. 

"We've got to make sure that when people leave prison, they're better people than when they went in. The punishment is being in prison - they shouldn't be punished while they're in prison."