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Management and unions defend staff actions

19 August 2005
For immediate release

Management and unions defend staff actions

The Department of Corrections and the two unions representing corrections officers joined forces today as they responded angrily to what they described as offensive and misleading reporting by The Press.

The report followed the escape of high medium security prisoner Brendan Joseph Shiels from Christchurch Men’s Prison late on Wednesday night 17 August. Shiels is also facing charges following a serious assault on a Corrections Officer earlier this year.

“The report implies that the first staff on the scene did nothing,” said Corrections Association of New Zealand (CANZ) president Beven Hanlon.

“In fact, we understand staff at the Prison immediately followed procedure, contacting central control and followed instructions.”

In response to allegations that Corrections tried to keep the escape quiet, Public Prisons Service General Manager Phil McCarthy said a media statement issued on Thursday morning, the day after the escape, provided details about the escape and the prisoner.

He endorsed Beven Hanlon’s comments and said Departmental procedures were tightened following a serious 1996 incident at the same prison.

“Three officers were seriously injured in that incident and one was taken hostage. It is a risk for officers operating on night shift, with limited staff available, to recklessly confront an armed prisoner without planning and protective equipment,” said Mr McCarthy.

Public Service Association (PSA) Organiser Alan Ware said that New Zealand officers are not routinely armed and equipped to deal with potentially lethal situations. Staff safety is a primary concern.

“It is imperative in such situations that a planned and considered approach is taken,” said Mr Ware. “It is seems clear from what we know that the staff did what was expected of them and followed required procedures”.

Trained officers equipped with protective gear are tasked with responding to incidents involving armed or dangerous prisoners. A response team was actioned on Wednesday night as the alarm was raised by the two officers.

“The incident will be thoroughly investigated and changes will be made where necessary to prevent such an incident recurring,” said Mr McCarthy.

“I have seen nothing to date that suggests any fault with the actions taken at the time of the escape.”

Mr McCarthy also repeated earlier comments that an additional, electrified, fence is planned for Christchurch Prison and that tenders for the project had been let before this recent incident.

“It is probable that fence, had it been in place, would have helped staff to apprehend the prisoner before he made his escape,” said Mr McCarthy.


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