Claims of a 22-hour prisoner lockdown at a Waikato prison as guards struggle to control inmate violence are "incorrect", says Corrections.
Prisoner advocacy organisation No Pride in Prisons today alleged an entire unit at Spring Hill Corrections Facility has been on 22-hour lockdown for months, citing sources familiar with the prisoners.
However, Department of Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales said the information was "incorrect".
"The prison has been running a regime similar to other prisons across the country where prisoners are generally unlocked between 8am and 5pm each day," he said.
"Prisoners have not been in lockdown for 22 hours a day for months."
No Pride in Prisons spokeswoman Emilie Rakete said prisoners' families had contacted the group with concerns about the treatment of inmates.
"All of the prisoners in one unit are being locked into their cells for 22 hours per day," she claimed.
"Apparently, this is happening because there are simply too many people in the unit to manage and Corrections cannot control violence in the unit. It is punishing everybody by putting them in 22-hour lockdown."
After Corrections' denial, Rakete told the Herald the government department was "equivocating" and "talking around the fact".
No Pride in Prisons had laid a formal complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman, Rakete said.
She said the prisoners' claims were in keeping with the "dull, brute force approach" at Spring Hill.
The organisation said such a lockdown would be in breach of Corrections Regulations, which state prisoners cannot be punished without being found guilty by a disciplinary hearing.
However, Beales said, like all prisons across New Zealand, Spring Hill has a management unit where prisoners on directed segregation are housed.
He added inmates at Spring Hill may be restricted or denied association with other prisoners and placed in directed segregation if the prison director feels the "security or good order of the prison would otherwise be endangered or prejudiced".
Prisoners may also be restricted if the safety of another person would be endangered, he said.
"Prisoners on this type of directed segregation are housed in the management unit and have their status reviewed daily by a senior staff member who checks progress against their management plan.
"Prisoners in the management unit may be subject to longer lockdown periods as part of their directed segregation, pursuant to the Corrections Act 2004 but do receive their minimum entitlement of at least one hours exercise per day," he said.
Beales said directed segregation is revoked when there is no justification to keep it in force and expires after 14 days unless the chief executive, or his delegate, directs it to continue.
"This direction is reviewed each month and expires after three months unless a visiting justice approves continuation."
He said if prisoners feel they have been unfairly placed on directed segregation they are able to make a formal complaint through a Corrections internal process, or raise a complaint with Corrections' Inspectorate or the Ombudsman.
Spring Hill has been involved in several incidents in recent years.
Last month, Corrections launched an investigation into allegations a guard assaulted an inmate on the morning January 27.
Last November, four No Pride in Prisons members were arrested after chaining themselves to each other at the Hamilton Corrections office, claiming a transgender prisoner was being unfairly kept in an isolation unit at Spring Hill.
In 2015, Corrections apologised to a Spring Hill inmate's family after the prison's medical staff failed to properly care for his "complex medical needs" before he later died in hospital.
In June 2013, during a massive riot at the north Waikato prison, prisoners smashed windows and made weapons from furniture to cause further damage.
The mass brawl at unit 16B was one of the worst in New Zealand history, and began after inmates broke into the guard room and attacked an officer with a metal volleyball pole.
Several fires were started in the prison, including a huge blaze in the middle of the compound.
The cost of the eight-hour rampage topped $10 million, more than 20 prisoners were charged over the riot, and two containers of "home brew" were discovered by prison staff.