Corrections Minister denies takeover indicates loss of confidence in operator.
Fresh pressure went on private prison operator Serco last night with confirmation it sent a prisoner from Mt Eden prison to Manawatu without telling the Department of Corrections the inmate was seriously injured.
Corrections confirmed last night a prisoner being transferred to a prison in Manawatu needed urgent hospital attention on arrival because of the seriousness of injuries sustained in Serco-managed Mt Eden prison.
A spokeswoman also said Serco had not told the Department of Corrections the inmate was injured.
It came as the Government took over management of the Mt Eden Correctional Facility which has been at the centre of allegations of organised fighting and violence among inmates.
Besieged Corrections minister Sam Lotu-Iiga announced yesterday a management team would take over the day-to-day running of the prison from Monday "for the immediate future". But he also said it didn't amount to any loss of confidence in the company.
Mr Lotu-Iiga told a press conference Serco's staff would remain on site but a Corrections Department Prison Director and their team would oversee the prison.
He said Corrections' intervention was not a signal of no-confidence in Serco. He said the company's management of Wiri Prison in South Auckland would not be affected by the events at Mt Eden. The company has just started a 25-year contract managing the new Auckland South Corrections Facility, the newest prison in the country with 960 inmates.
Mr Lotu-Iiga did not respond to Weekend Herald questions over whether the Government was still committed to privately run prisons. His office also failed to answer questions about whether he had sought advice about problems in Mt Eden prison after media reports of drugs and violence in December and February - or even after being personally quizzed by Labour's Kelvin Davis at a select committee hearing last month.
The Weekend Herald learned of the case of a prisoner sent from Mt Eden prison to Manawatu in March this year. Staff at the prison were understood to be deeply concerned to discover the prisoner was badly injured - so much so that he was immediately transferred to hospital for treatment. The details were confirmed by Corrections last night.
It was the latest in a string of disclosures of assaults at Mt Eden prison which followed claims by Labour's prison spokesman Kelvin Davis of extreme violence, including claims an inmate, Nick Evans, died of complications which followed being dropped from a landing at the institution.
Mr Davis said the Government needed to consider whether Serco should be running the new prison. In his opinion, he said Serco "should not be in the business of running a prison" at all.
Mr Davis said the minister should have sought advice from his department when media reports suggested there were problems in the prison.
"There is a no-surprises policy and yet he's surprised by everything."
Doubt cast on 'dropping' links to inmate's death
Weekend Herald inquiries have cast doubt on claims that Mt Eden inmate Nick Evans died after being "dropped" deliberately by gang members from a prison balcony.
Evans, 25, was in the Auckland prison on charges of dealing methamphetamine.
He died a month ago with pneumonia after infection by an MRSA superbug meant antibiotics could not be used to fight the illness.
Speculation about his death has centred on Evans having a ruptured lung.
Sources with knowledge of the death said Evans had not suffered any broken bones, damaged organs or bruising. As a result, it seemed unlikely his ruptured lung was caused by an assault or being "dropped".
One possible explanation for the damaged lung is smokers and drug users are more prone to suffer from a "spontaneous pneumothorax", where small air-filled sacs in the lung burst and leak air, without any external physical force.
However, he was a victim of the violence which is said to pervade Mt Eden prison.
The Weekend Herald has discovered Evans was involved in several fights in Mt Eden prison, including at least one altercation with a member of the criminal group called the "Kings of Auckland".
A former inmate spoken to by the Weekend Herald named a Kings of Auckland member as being involved in at least one of the fights but said Evans had not been dropped.
And another inmate recently released from Mt Eden prison said he had never heard of the practice of dropping.
Labour MP Kelvin Davis, who made the claims this week, said his initial information about Mr Evans had been bolstered by another source.
"We'll have to wait and see what comes out of these inquiries," Mr Davis said.