A major investigation has been carried out at Auckland South Corrections Facility (ASCF) after concerns were raised about the level of violence within the prison; inmate and staff safety; and non-compliance of the internal complaints process.
The investigation was launched after a number of specific and general allegations were made by prisoners at the facility and a visitor to the site who made observations between May and October.
The allegations and the details of the people who made them have been kept secret by the Department of Corrections, which released a report last week after the investigation by its Inspectorate Office.
But it appears the allegations included organised fights, staff using excessive force and neglecting prisoner safety, and a huge delay with the internal complaints system which was causing anxiety and anger amongst inmates.
The report reveals that the investigators were looking at, among other things, whether organised fight clubs existed at the prison and whether staff were dealing with reports of violence appropriately.
During the investigation inspectors interviewed a number of inmates, including some who had suffered "suspicious injuries", along with prison staff including management, custodial, health, , human resources and administration.
The inspectors also reviewed electronic data including CCTV footage, cell alarms and phone calls, and spoke with inmates' family members.
"The investigation found that there was no evidence of any planned/organised fighting amongst prisoners," said the report, published on the Corrections' website late on Friday.
"There is however evidence that fights do occur between prisoners for a variety of reasons ... due to stand-overs, boredom, gambling debts, jealousy, personal, gangs.
"New Zealand prisons, including ASCF, have a zero-tolerance attitude towards violence, however, it is acknowledged and not unexpected that there are elements of violence-related incidents in every prison due to complex factors, primarily being the nature of some prisoners within a stressful environment and that not all prisoners feel safe all the time."
The investigation found ASCF management was "proactively dealing with any reported violent incidents" including "sparring and shadow boxing".
"These incidents were generally managed well, with the appropriate follow-up," the report said.
The inspectors said a contributing factor to violence in the prison was "high levels of anxiety and frustration" caused by "issues with the ineffective complaints process, lengthy delays in accessing their property and restricted reintegration interventions".
As a result the inspectors recommended that additional resources be dedicated to improving and expediting the formal complaints process at the prison; making it more robust, with fewer delays.
The inspectors said there was no evidence to support claims of fight clubs, staff neglecting inmate safety or excessive force by staff on inmates.
"The review is of the opinion the general concerns raised ... in relation to the level of violence and non-response/actions by staff is not substantiated," the report said.
"A majority of the specific allegations by the names prisoners had been dealt with prior to [the October complaint], did not relate to ASCF or were under investigation by the appropriate agency ... police, inspector, ASCF management.
"This review is concerned with the ongoing non-compliance of the complaints process and high level of frustration expressed by prisoners regarding unreasonable delays and or lack of responses in general to their issues, specifically property."
The inspectors made a number of recommendations including "immediately assigning additional resources to review and amend their local complaints process, ensuring all staff are trained and prisoners are informed to any changes that have been implemented".
A draft copy of the report was provided to ASCF and private company Serco, which holds the contract for the day-to-day operation of the facility.
Prison director Mike Inglis responded saying he accepted the recommendations that Serco could address independently, but others would need a collaborative approach with Corrections.
He told the Herald he welcomed the "fair and balanced report which found no evidence of organised fighting and noted that regrettably, there are elements of violent related incidents in every New Zealand prison".
"We agree with the inspectors' view that there are always areas where improvements can be made, and have taken action," he said.
"We have already made progress against those recommendations which we can address independently.
"We have held discussions with the Department on the recommendations that require a collaborative approach and we will continue to work closely with them to achieve our mutual goals."
Inglis said the focus at the prison was to "achieve the outcomes that we are contracted to deliver on behalf of New Zealanders".
"To operate a safe, secure facility with a fundamental goal of reducing reoffending. Our aim is to turn people's lives around and make our communities safer."
Auckland South Corrections Facility
ASCF is a high security men's prison at Wiri in Auckland.
It opened in 2015 and is operated by Serco New Zealand under a Public-Private Partnership with the Department of Corrections.
According to Corrections, ASCF's contract with the department focuses on "sentence compliance, reducing reoffending and ensuring better outcomes for Maori" with a strong focus on offering prisoners practical skills and training "that will translate into realistic employment opportunities when they leave prison".
The prison can house up to 960 male inmates with minimum to high security classifications.