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Corrections fight club report said to ignore earlier probes

Corrections fight club report said to ignore earlier probes

By Paul McBeth

Feb. 15 (BusinessDesk) - Serco New Zealand is challenging the findings of a Department of Corrections report into organised fighting at Mount Eden Correctional Facility, claiming the investigation ignored two earlier probes into violence across the nation's prisons, and was based on anonymous evidence that was unreliable.

Counsel for the private prison operator, Hayden Wilson, told the High Court in Wellington today that the department's investigation was too narrow in its interpretation of its terms of reference, ignoring the context that could have been provided by two reports into organised fighting across the prison estate in 2009 and 2014. By not using those earlier documents, the inspector erred in law by excluding relevant factors in the final report, which has been injuncted pending the outcome of Serco's judicial review, he said.

"That's the primary error about the relevant factors - the existence of those two reports and their not being addressed in the report in any way, particularly in so far as they need reconcile with conclusions the chief inspector is making," Wilson said.

Serco took over the management of the Mt Eden remand prison in 2011, after winning a $300 million, 10-year contract. The discovery of fighting footage uploaded to the YouTube streaming video website triggered an investigation into organised fighting and access to contraband in the prison, and came at a time when Serco's contract was up for review.

The company has since lost the Mt Eden contract, though that hasn't affected its management of the Wiri facility in South Auckland, and doesn't bar it from bidding for future work.

The private prison operator wants the Corrections Department report rewritten after it gets adequate opportunity to respond to information the chief investigator relied on from anonymous interviews with prisoners and ex-prisoners, which Wilson said breached Serco's right to natural justice.

"The nature of the relationship between prisoners and the manager of an institution where they're interred doesn't lend itself to an amicable relationship," Wilson said.

In the few instances where Serco had enough specific information to identify the interviewees, it was able to provide context that was otherwise missing and improve on what has appeared in the final report, he said.

The hearing is set down for two days and is continuing.


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