Go-ahead for waist restraints

By Mike Houlahan

The Corrections Department is to begin introducing waist restraints into jails from next month, despite concerns from prison officers and the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Last year, in the wake of the killing of North Shore teenager Liam Ashley in the back of a prison van in August 2006, the Ombudsman released a damning report on the transport of prisoners, labelling current methods inhumane.

The Government's proposal to trial waist restraints was made at the same time, prompting a threat of legal action from civil libertarians if the measure was eventually introduced.

Under prisoner transport regulations Liam Ashley's killer, George Baker, should not even have been in the van with his victim. Baker is serving a life sentence for battering the young man to death.

Four types of restraint were trialled at Waikeria, Christchurch and Auckland Central Remand Prisons late last year.

"After a rigorous and thorough trial the most suitable waist restraint was selected," chief custodial adviser Bryan McMurray said.

The restraints would be introduced throughout the prison service in March and April this year, Mr McMurray said.

That news has appalled the Howard League for Penal Reform. Spokeswoman Kathy Dunstall said the league was still trying to obtain Corrections' evaluation report of the restraints, but had been told it was not yet cleared for release.

The league has consistently argued the restraints are inhumane. Ms Dunstall said the league had been told the restraints created delays in courtrooms, and prisoners had reported they were unable to keep themselves upright in the back of vans while strapped in and were sent flying about when the brakes were applied.

"It's very poor policy to put everybody in waist restraints. This will do nothing to address the problems the Ombudsman raised in their prison transport report and make the situation less humane."

Corrections Association President Bevan Hanlon said the prison officers' union agreed with the introduction of waist restraints, but criticised Corrections for not properly discussing the change with the association.

"At the moment we go through a process where prisoners are prepared for transport. We're now going to have to put them into a restraint belt that not all of them are going to be happy to go into, so we're increasing the risk for Corrections officers.

"We would like to make sure that the policies are safe, they way we are going to do things is right, and we're really disappointed not to have been consulted about it."

- NZ Herald

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