The mass strip search of a group of inmates after assaults on staff at New Zealand's toughest prison was legal - and necessary, says Corrections.
But the inmates argue the search was unlawful and are now taking the department to the High Court, seeking $10,000 in damages.
The Herald revealed in February that a group of the country's most high-profile inmates made an official complaint and demanded compensation and an apology from the Department of Corrections over the October strip search, which they claimed was unlawful.
The search was carried out after inmates attacked six guards - three of whom suffered stab wounds to their heads, necks, hands and shoulders.
Led by "jailhouse lawyer" and long-serving inmate Arthur Taylor, the group of Auckland Prison inmates included infamous prison escaper Phillip John Smith, murderer Liam Reid, international drug smuggler David Ikenna Obiaga, sex offenders Karl Richard Smith and Larry Gordon Cant and carjacker Tony Temoananui, and Jacob Komene, who broke into his 95-year-old neighbour's home and stabbed him in the head.
Taylor claimed in the complaint, obtained by the Herald, that mass strip searches were unlawful and sought a formal apology from Corrections and $600 in compensation for each inmate.
Corrections investigated the complaint and announced the result this morning.
Deputy chief executive corporate services Vincent Arbuckle said the strip search followed "four separate assaults on staff", "some of which included improvised weapons".
"Prisoners are strip searched in order to prevent unauthorised items, including weapons, in prisons.
"Unauthorised items of all sorts may be very dangerous in a prison environment and can pose a serious safety risk to prisoners and our staff.
"After investigating this complaint, the department considers that the strip search referred to by these prisoners was lawful."
It is understood Taylor was advised of Corrections' response to the initial complaint on Friday.
Today the 60-year-old, who has spent most of the past 40 years in prison, confirmed he had taken further action.
"I have just sent proceedings to the High Court on behalf of all the inmates who were in Auckland Prison at the time of the illegal mass strip search last year," he said in a statement provided to the Herald by an associate.
"Our group of 18 had given Corrections an opportunity to settle out of court for $600 per inmate plus an apology . . . We are now claiming $10,000 . . . for all inmates at the prison at the time of the strip search.
"We may not get that much, but I believe it could turn out very expensive for the department."
Four inmates were charged in relation to the October 21 attack, which happened in C Block at Paremoremo prison, north of Auckland.
The men are jointly charged with wounding four prison officers with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.