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The Chief Prison Inspector’s report on Serco and MECF

Written By: - Date published: 9:30 am, October 7th, 2016 - 46 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, business, capitalism, Judith Collins, national, Politics, prisons, same old national - Tags: ,

Serco protest Kelvin Davis David Clendon-1

The neoliberal approach to the privatisation of services that should be performed by the state is well known.  First of all get the Government to starve the state institution of resources so that it performs its role poorly.  Then make a flashy offer which loses money initially but gives room to renegotiate extras.  Then attack costs, usually by suppressing wages and work conditions and staffing numbers.  And whatever happens contest any criticism and negotiate hard.  Once you are in there it will be hard to shift you out.  And just remember the Government that signs these contracts has a political interest in making them work, or at least seem to work.

The privatisation of prison services at the Mount Eden Corrections Facility was lauded by the Government when it was announced.  Judith Collins said this:

The appointment of Serco as the contract manager for Mt Eden/ACRP will bring in new ideas and international best practice which will benefit the entire corrections sector.

Serco has a strong track record in managing prisons. I’m confident that the company will bring the high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security expected by the Government to Mt Eden/ACRP.

Collins needs to reconsider her confidence.

In July 2015 when the news of fight clubs, drugs and gang control and even the death of Nick Evans broke National shut its eyes and then claimed that it could not see anything wrong.

From Stuff:

Under fire Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga insisted on Wednesday the claims were unproven but admitted he had heard “rumours and allegations” about the death.

He was unable to say when he first heard those rumours but confirmed no action had been taken to refer the matter to police.

“[There was] Kelvin Davis’s allegation about this during the week but I’ve heard all sorts of rumours about this death and I’ve said to my officials ‘get to the bottom of it, let’s have an inquiry, an investigation’.”

Lotu-Iiga said any decision on a police investigation may be dependent on the outcome of a coroner’s inquiry and investigation by the chief prisons inspector.

Serco and the minister have both denied any knowledge of a practice called “dropping” – and say the first they heard about it was this week.

But it has now emerged that Lotu-Iiga was grilled about the practice by Davis at a parliamentary select committee hearing weeks ago.

A transcript of proceedings show Lotu-Iiga was told by Davis: “There’s this guy that passed away recently…apparently he had a ruptured lung. I’ve asked ‘how do you get a ruptured lung? It’s often from a high impact collision and there’s accusations that prisoners have been thrown off balconies and then they’re getting transferred out of Mt Eden correctional facility.”

Asked on Wednesday about that transcript, Lotu-Iiga appeared to have no recollection of the exchange.

An inquiry has been held by the Chief Prison Inspector and despite Serco’s attempt to suppress the contents the report has now been made public.

The report shows how inept the Government’s management of the contract and oversight of the facility has been.  From Radio New Zealand:

Private prison operator Serco was scoring “exceptional” performance marks when it had too few guards to detect or stop organised fight clubs at Mt Eden remand jail, a report says.

The inquiry into fight clubs at Mt Eden released yesterday showed Serco used a system that rostered on guards who were on leave, or who no longer worked there at all, leaving the prison understaffed.

Chief prison inspector Andy Fitzharris said in the inquiry report the only way of detecting and preventing organised fighting was having enough properly trained staff on deck.

Guards who were supposed to be supervising prisoners in units while prisoners’ cells were unlocked were doing so only 40 percent of the time, the report said.

“[Serco’s staffing model] was fundamentally flawed as there is documentary evidence that the staffing roster used included some staff who were on annual leave, medical leave, or had resigned,” the report said.

It said Serco’s contract with the government did not set staffing arrangements, making Serco responsible for determining how many staff were sufficient to meet its obligations.

In the report, Serco dismissed the lack of staff as a cause of the fight clubs – blaming violent gang culture instead.

The fight clubs, often in cells but sometimes in full view of CCTV, happened weekly, and possibly daily, in at least half of the prison’s 10 units that house 1000 men.

Inmates were coerced into fighting by gang members, the report said.

The Government’s response to the incidents has been inept.  Rather than cancel the contract the Government decided not to renew it when it comes up for renewal this year.  This is as weak a response as you can imagine apart from doing nothing whatsoever.

And Serco continues to run the Wiri prison in South Auckland having a 25 year contract to do so.  Again the Government claims exceptional performance at the prison but after the ACRP experience you have to wonder how reliable this ranking is especially after recent news that inmates drunk on home brew attacked staff and caused a wing to be shut down.

Congratulations again to Kelvin Davis for his work in the area.  The sooner our prisons are again fully under state control the better.

46 comments on “The Chief Prison Inspector’s report on Serco and MECF ”

  1. Richard Rawshark 1

    So now it’s official, National have become a modern Nazi party. They have let morals in NZ sink to such depths of depravity they are now using criminals to fight each other as entertainment.

    No Doubt Garth will be along with some of his justice rants on how they deserve it. After all they are just scum, why not.

    Romans did it to the Christians, Hitler turned the Jews on each other, Key places criminals in hell and leaves them to kill each other.

    Justice would be served by making National live it.

  2. Cinny 2

    Which Minister contracted Serco for Mt Eden in the first place?

    • Cinny 2.1

      Judith did, and Sam took over, he was made a scape goat big time, and now Judith is back at the helm making out to be some sort of saviour looking after those whom have been let down and abused because of Serco what a joke.

      “This Government is committed to a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand. To achieve that, we must have access to world-class innovation and expertise,” Ms Collins said.

      “The appointment of Serco as the contract manager for Mt Eden/ACRP will bring in new ideas and international best practice which will benefit the entire corrections sector.

      “Serco has a strong track record in managing prisons. I’m confident that the company will bring the high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security expected by the Government to Mt Eden/ACRP.”


      • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1

        “This Government is committed to a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand. To achieve that, we must have access to world-class innovation and expertise,” Ms Collins said.

        And that would be a lie. What they’re committed to is first class profit for the corporations that own them.

      • Wensleydale 2.1.2

        I love all this talk of “international best practice” in regard to Serco. Even a fleeting examination of their track record overseas gives the distinct impression that as long as they’re making a wheelbarrow load of cash, their definition of best practice is doing barely enough to scrape by, and then auditing themselves in order to give the illusion of competence. Serco are notable only for their subterranean levels of service, and their penchant for lying about their subterranean levels of service. Check out their antics on Christmas Island. The truly frightening thing about Serco, is that their diseased tentacles appear to have penetrated almost every facet of society – including the military-industrial complex.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Serco are notable only for their subterranean levels of service, and their penchant for lying about their subterranean levels of service.

          Lying and deceit IS international best practice according to our present government.

        • invisiphilia

          Yes and the feeling that someone’s pocket got lined from the deal that gave them that contract in the first place…

      • thechangeling 2.1.3

        Sounds like a similar situation with Spotless and Compass doing the privatised jobs of providing poor public food services for our hospitals, military bases and various boarding schools and rest homes around New Zealand.

  3. Muttonbird 3

    More to come on Wiri according to Phil Twyford.


    Collins will be desperate to cover this up. Watch for her to ramp up the attacks on prisoners who are being mean to the poor Serco management.

  4. Siobhan 4

    $1.27 million in damages in the Colin Craig defamation trial vs Serco’s contract with its so called ‘steep penalties’ for security breaches, including $600,000 fines for a riot or hostage event, the unnatural death of any prisoner, any death due to prisoner action and any escape.

    Hurt feelings and privacy breaches amongst the white collars vs prisoners being forced by gangs, into ‘fight-clubs’…a glamorous term for an ‘entertaining’ beating….under the watch of the representatives of a massive Corporation deemed to be doing an excellent job by our Government..

    • dukeofurl 4.1

      having a penalty of ‘fine’ was just another negotiating point for Serco, they would then contest the fine or it would be a sort of credit debit account, so no actual money changed hands.

    • UncookedSelachimorpha 4.2

      The whole concept of attaching dollar values to prison suicides, riots etc…is just vile. The idea that money is the only real measure of anything is at the heart of a lot of NZ society’s problems – and a fatal flaw of the neoliberal right.

      A person who thinks that negotiating dollar values around these things is a good idea, is exactly the type of person you don’t want managing human issues or vulnerable people…hello Serco!

      We should do better things for lots of better reasons!

  5. mauī 5

    What really pisses me off almost as much were the responses from the government on the news last night. The commander and chief saying that Serco was probably the “wrong choice”, implying that there is a better choice of provider out there, just they haven’t found it yet… Then the blue lady saying it was all Corrections fault anyway 🙄 that they weren’t supervising Serco closely enough (See private providers are the only ones for the job). Fucking hell.. how can you vote for this crap, and where the fuck is the media letting these slack answers ride.


    • dukeofurl 5.1

      “Corrections fault anyway 🙄 that they weren’t supervising Serco closely enough

      Yes the prison monitors were stonewalled by serco and bogged down in trivia so they could anything worthwhile

      • Wensleydale 5.1.1

        And the fact that a massive trans-national corporate like Serco needs baby-sitting, just on the off-chance they’ll do something unethical, is kind of hilarious in itself. Claiming Serco are the best option to run our prisons is a bit like claiming a meth-addled lunatic with an extensive criminal record is the best option to run a child-care centre.


        • Richard McGrath

          That article about the Christmas Island Detention Centre is completely out of date. In the first sentence it claims that the detainee to guard ratio is 350 to 1. In that case there must be less than one Serco officer on the island, as when I left there about six weeks ago there were fewer than 350 prisoners.

          The article is worth reading though, as the photos show the damage the crims managed to cause. Took months to get it all repaired, while our ability to provide health care to the detainees was compromised for several weeks after they smashed up the medical centre.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.2

      Then the blue lady saying it was all Corrections fault anyway 🙄 that they weren’t supervising Serco closely enough (See private providers are the only ones for the job).

      Which puts the lie to private provision being more efficient as more people are required to watch the private corporation 24/7 to make sure that they’re not fucking up. If we don’t get people watching them then this result happens.

  6. weizguy 6

    MECF was constantly at the top of the prison rankings and everyone at Corrections knew that was bollocks.

    But when the Minister, Chief Executive, and Senior Management know that private prisons have to succeed, no-one wants to stick their neck out and tell the truth.

  7. Richard Rawshark 7

    Can anyone at all tell me what the word “Accountability” stands for?

    Because if accountability is not applicable to anything anymore we are on a slippery slide.

    I think, with all the lack of accountability on quite a few issues, the issue of accountability overall has become the defining issue, or one of the top defining issues of our political generation.

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    Again the Government claims exceptional performance at the prison but after the ACRP experience you have to wonder how reliable this ranking is especially after recent news that inmates drunk on home brew attacked staff and caused a wing to be shut down.

    I expect that there’s no inspections taking place. Why would you need inspections for a forgone conclusion?

    • Richard Rawshark 8.1

      ahh prison home brew… good shit…

      Since prisoners , well were prisoners.

      I wonder how many people here spent any time in jail, here or oversea’s and can really comment?

      I think , or perhaps know the truth being, more funny, illegal, and sometimes hysterically amusing stuff goes down inside prisons, like the time they got some visitors to leave some live ammunition in one of the sand ashtrays at HMP Durham, boy talk about over reaction jeez./.. 🙂

    • Richard Rawshark 8.2

      Inspectors.. pulease..

  9. AmaKiwi 9

    1. Cutting staffing is the ONLY way to make a profit in the prison business. Why didn’t the opposition make this a public issue years ago?

    2. On Paul Henry show (see 3 above) Phil Twyford was a disaster! The opposition? You must be joking! Read his face and body language. He and Judith Collins are good mates from that folksy club that passes for a parliament. Meanwhile inmates are getting the sh*t punched out of them by the sadistic inmates who Serco allows to run the prisons.

    3. The US government has just terminated ALL private prison contracts throughout the 50 states. Doe

    4. Collins’ excuse for privatizing the prisons was that Serco would bring “best practices and innovative management.” Translation: “We, the government don’t want to pay the minimal costs to upgrade state employed prison managers’ skills. We want private contractors to rip us off and export their ill-gotten profits overseas.”

    5. Question: How many MPs’ overseas trusts own Serco shares?

    • Cinny 9.1

      Good points AmaKiwi

      However I thought Phil was ok re the paul henry interview, but Kelvin would have been a better choice, I really admire Kelvins work re corrections etc.

      I’m still annoyed that Judith is appearing to ‘save the day’ when it was her initial decision to have Serco overseeing Mt Eden that is to blame.

      Something she said made me wonder.. she claims that the ‘fight clubs’ were happening back in 2009 when corrections was running it. She went on to say that it appears to be the same prisoners back then that are running the fight clubs now. The bit that makes me wonder is… isn’t Mt Eden a remand prison?

      Maybe The Nation or Q&A will do a story on it in the weekend

      Your 5th point requires some investigating. And your 4th point is bang on.

      I’m pretty sure opposition did speak out, Kelvin sure is doing some hard work.

      One last thing, fight clubs are common in all prisons, at least that’s what i’ve been told by those whom have been inside.

      When screws are underpaid, it’s very easy to flick them a few dollars so they can turn a blind eye.

      • AmaKiwi 9.1.1

        @ Cinny

        Thanks for your comments.

        Upstart politicians overseas (Sanders, Trump, etc.) are winning because they are able to claim they are NOT part of the establishment which has made such a mess of the economy, inequality, and environment. Twyford’s whole demeanor said, “Judith and I are long-time dear freinds.”

        That will lose Labour huge support. It is less about Twyford’s words. It was the non-verbal message he conveyed. He screwed up in spades.

  10. McFlock 10

    The inquiry into fight clubs at Mt Eden released yesterday showed Serco used a system that rostered on guards who were on leave, or who no longer worked there at all, leaving the prison understaffed.

    You know you can’t guard me with your ghost guards, John…

  11. Adrian Thornton 11

    Well maybe now that unashamed centrist neoLiberal Mike William might stop promoting his love affair with Serco and Collins at every opportunity ..but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    Here is William’s on the Serco run Wiri south Auckland prison;

    Defending Judith Collins;

    …and btw they are not fight clubs, there isn’t any Brad Pitt glamor to be seen here, just real blood and bone which I can assure you doesn’t look at all pretty up close, just horrific and sad.

  12. Karen 12

    Andrea Vance has done a good opinion piece here:


    As she points out Serco already had a bad reputation when it was given the contract.

    Private prisons is a bad idea, just as charter schools are a bad idea. They have been proved to be a bad idea overseas but this government is hell bent on privatising all state services no matter the results. Education, welfare, health, justice, and housing should be core government responsibilities delivered for the benefit of the whole population, but under this government they are being sold off to private providers whose only motive is profit.

    • Draco T Bastard 12.1

      Private prisons is a bad idea, just as charter schools are a bad idea.

      Getting private enterprise to provide essential government services is a bad idea.

    • gsays 12.2

      hi karen, i agree private prisons and charter schools are a bad idea, and i will go one further.
      profitting from incarceration is offensive.

      “Education, welfare, health, justice, and housing should be core government responsibilities delivered for the benefit of the whole population..”
      spot on and i would add utilities as well: gas, power, phone, internet.

      surely this resonates with plenty of voters…
      let’s hear it!

  13. Once was Tim now no longer 13

    The state has no business abrogating its responsibilities by ‘outsourcing’ them to private companies for profit, and to keep their suppotas ‘sweet’.
    However having done so, there seems to be this idea that they can’t be held accountable.
    WHEN, (eventually) there is a change in regime, I live in hope that a future government will actually do the right thing – in this case terminate Serco, recover any and all money (the cost of enquiries, etc.), and hold those responsible for what is effectively a breach of contract to account.
    It goes way beyond prison privatisations however.
    Those responsible for the absolute fuckups elsewhere in the public service (such as MPI: slave labour; fishing quotas; sleeping with those they’re supposed to monitor/or… MoBIE, as regards slave labour and the total under-resourcing of the Labour Inspectorate; or a number of issues relating to foreign students-many reduced to prostitution, living in tin shacks, destitute and resorting to gambling, crime, etc.)/ or the under-resourcing of bodies such as NZQA – such that they know of various scams and corruption amongst private tertiary education providers but are so thin on the ground that investigations are barely sequential)/ or the licensing on ‘consultants’ and others engaged in it all) …… ALL of it ….. A L L of it needs to be put right, with the culprits held to account.
    If not, it’ll simply happen again the next time we get an ideologically-driven, ‘I’m comfortable and rillexed’ bugger’s muddle of a gummint operating on the cult of personality, post-truth spin and populism.
    Although there is no ‘statute of limitations’ on much of what needs to happen, I’m not sure many currently in opposition will have the balls.
    I suspect they’ll still be worried about what some inadequate opinion poll might say, and whether the likes of a Crosby Textor is able to invent some language that conveys a ‘witch hunt’, nenny stite message (going forward)

  14. Sacha 15

    Corrections managers hid earlier 2014 investigation into fight clubs from bosses: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11724637

    And an acting Serco prison manager reported fights even earlier, in 2013: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11724637

  15. Cinny 16

    The Nation are interviewing Judith this morning about it, should be interesting

    • dukeofurl 16.1

      She will ask for even more operational oversight, under her control of course, that way these things will never see the light of day.

      And this is the same Minister who was trying to put obstacles in way of MPs visiting prisons unannounced. She is an expert at working on more coverup under the guise of more transparency- a trademark of the Key government.

  16. UncookedSelachimorpha 17

    The first and second rule of Serco is that you do not talk about fight club(s).

  17. Henry Filth 18

    Ah well, unless there’s an electoral upset in 2017, I suspect that that’s the end of the Inspector of Prisons.

    Hope he can transition successfully through the window of opportunity provided by the revolving door to the private prison sector. . .

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