The government of New Zealand has taken control of a prison being run under contract by Serco after evidence emerged of a “fight club” among inmates.
The Department of Corrections has invoked a “step-in” clause in the NZ$300 million contract with Serco to run Mount Eden Corrections Facility and installed a director and management team to oversee day to day running, while keeping Serco staff on site.
The department, which has also launched an investigation, took the step after video footage of brawling inmates was posted to YouTube and prisoners appeared to be in possession of mobile phones.
The terms of reference for the inquiry said: “The Department of Corrections believes that it is appropriate that the possible existence of organised prisoner-on-prisoner fighting – fight club – and access to contraband, including cell phones, be fully investigated by the chief inspector of corrections.”
Ray Smith, chief executive of the Department of Corrections, said: “I will determine how long the stepping-in process will continue for.
“In the meantime financial charges may be imposed in respect of the issues that have surfaced over the last week. These are likely to be substantial.
“There are also other options potentially available to me under the contract. These include a final warning and early termination of the contract.”
The contract with Serco to run Mount Eden, which holds 973 inmates, was entered into in 2011 for six years, with an option to extend by a further four years. It includes financial penalties of NZ$150,000 if a prisoner escapes, NZ$100,000 if Serco breaks the law and NZ$150,000 if a prisoner dies of unnatural causes. Serco also runs Auckland South Corrections Facility.
After evidence of the fight club emerged, Serco said it was investigating the situation, had increased security and informed the police. Director of operations Scott McNairn said: “Assaults and fights in prison, and the smuggling of mobile phones, are illegal and unacceptable. We have zero tolerance for this behaviour.”
Paul Mahoney, managing director at Serco Australia, said: “We accept the Department of Corrections’ decision to invoke the step-in clause in the contract and place a corrections department prison director and management team into Mount Eden Corrections Facility. We will provide them with the assistance they require.”