Ex-prisoner speaks of 'serious offences' in vans

By Louisa Cleave

A man recently released from prison said he had often seen "serious offences", including stabbings, in Chubb security vans during transfers between prisons and court houses.

The ex-prisoner, who did not want to be identified, said he had been in and out of jail for a number of years and had travelled in the security vans dozens of times.

On about half of those occasions, there had been "foul play", stand-overs and intimidation by inmates against other prisoners, he said.

The ex-prisoner believed Liam Ashley's death was a tragedy waiting to happen and questioned why he was not segregated when the security vans had a caged area designated for high-risk prisoners, such as youths.

It was usually at the rear of the van, behind the guards, and could be accessed by an escape hatch between the van and cab.

But a former Chubb manager said there had been fewer assaults and escapes under the private firm than the public service.

The man, who did not want to be identified, said Chubb received information about the prisoners to be transported - including their charges, security classification and level of risk - before the start of each day.

Management would then decide how many vans to assign, the configuration of each van and which prisoners they would carry.

Chubb moved around 200 to 300 prisoners a day in the Auckland region.

The former manager was shocked to hear that 14 prisoners were in the van when Liam was killed.

In his experience, vans would take a maximum of 12 prisoners, "and only if there was no other option".

He said official inquiries should look at whether there was pressure on the Chubb guards to move all prisoners out of the North Shore court cells at the end of the day, whether they arrived to find more prisoners than they expected, and if they were given all relevant information.

The Chubb policy was "very clear" that youths were to be segregated but the guards may have been faced with a decision to put Liam with others to complete the transfer on time.

"I think what has happened is a number of events have come together and some decisions were made for the right reasons, but they were the wrong decisions.

"They have made decisions based on the information [they had] and it's come back to bite them all very tragically."

The ex-prisoner, however, was critical of the private service, saying the guards were not properly trained and claiming some had gang connections.

The man said there were cases where guards had abused, pushed and spat on prisoners, and set up some people to be attacked in vans.

"I have seen them set up prisoners to be set up in the vans.

"This murder was an accident waiting to happen. There have been some other very serious offences where prisoners have arrived at the jails with stab wounds, unconscious, fearing for their lives. It's normally over cigarettes, drugs or shoes, clothing."

The man said prisoner escort work in Auckland should return to Corrections and be carried out by prison officers trained in risk assessment and who were familiar with prisoner behaviour.

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