Prison staff will be taught self-defence to combat violent inmates in the wake of a string of attacks on guards.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley today announced 4000 frontline staff would receive tactical exit training, including escape moves and holds, to help them deal with potentially violent situations.

It comes after a prison officer was assaulted at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison earlier this month - the third guard to come under attack in four months.

The 30-year-old guard was punched from behind by prisoners in the Maori Focus Unit.


Mrs Tolley said staff often dealt with dangerous and unpredictable offenders.

"I have been concerned about a recent spate of staff assaults, and we want to ensure that everything is being done to limit such incidents. We are always looking for ways to improve safety for our staff."

A Corrections spokeswoman said the training would involve learning escape moves and holds that would allow staff to avoid harm or break free from prisoners in situations where staff were being physically restrained or had no safe exit.

Staff would also be taught "situational awareness" to help them recognise what they could do to get out of difficult situations.

"This includes taking note of where they are in relation to doors and the other person/s in the area, working out if they will be able to reach an alarm if necessary and recognising any potential barriers, such as furniture, that could prevent them from exiting the area."

The training comes after staff at all prisons were given access to pepper spray after a trial at 10 prisons last year. Other recent safety measures include stab-resistant vests, batons and spit hoods for those working in high-risk situations.

Mrs Tolley also announced an international expert advisory panel, headed by former police commissioner Howard Broad, to oversee a new prison staff safety action plan.

The panel will recommend additions and possible improvements to the action plan, while consulting with staff and unions.

Rethinking Crime and Punishment director Kim Workman said it could lead to a more balanced prison management regime.

He said a focus on risk management and physical security had led to reductions in prison escapes and positive drug tests, but at the same time, there had been an increase in prisoners assaulting other inmates or staff.

"Where prison management introduces excessive strip searching, lock downs, and restrictions on prisoner movement and freedom, it will inevitably result in outbreaks of violence between prisoners, and on staff.

"If there has not been sufficient investment in staff training and development, it increases the likelihood that prisoners and prison staff will be either seriously injured or killed."