The introduction of pepper spray at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison two years ago has prevented several violent incidents inside the complex, the Department of Corrections says.
Its statement is backed up by statistics released to Hawke's Bay Today under the Official Information Act.
It comes hot on the heels of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier laying bare "serious concerns" about the treatment and safety of inmates at the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison in May this year.
In 2015, 2016 and 2017 there were 43, 46 and 41 spontaneous acts of force by guards at the prison.
In those three years pepper spray, not issued individually to guards until 2017, was used just four times.
In 2018 there were 11 incidents of pepper spray use, but the number of spontaneous acts of force dropped to just 35 and in the year to September, there had been 26.
Corrections' acting national commissioner Andy Milne said individually-issued pepper spray had been used to de-escalate situations.
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Situations included: "prisoners fighting in a yard and refusing to stop, prisoners refusing to return to their cells and displaying aggressive behaviour towards staff and prisoners damaging property and using broken glass as a weapon".
Milne said in the 2017/18 financial year, there were over 100 incidents involving individually-issued pepper spray across NZ prisons.
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"Less than one quarter of these resulted in the actual use of pepper spray - in the vast majority of incidents the presentation of pepper spray, not its use, was enough to de-escalate the situation."
In September the prison director Leonie Aben said changes regarding "use of force" had been implemented at the prison.
"I have ensured that more staff have been included and upskilled in the management and oversight of use of force procedures."
A spokesman for the Ombudsman to said it was hard to comment on whether the total number of "use of force" incidents at the prison was high or low, relative to the 600-plus inmate population.
"Each incident concerning the use of force depends on what occurred in the specific instance, so it is not possible to say whether the figures you provide are disproportionately high or low."
Milne said safety was Corrections' foremost priority when managing offenders and all sentences were administered in a safe, secure and effective manner.
He said the use of physical force was limited to the minimum degree reasonable and necessary to resolve a situation as promptly and safely as possible.
"Force is only used when there is no other option and it must be discontinued at the first safe opportunity once control is regained.
"Force is not used as a means of punishment and can only be used once prison staff have exhausted every effort to communicate with the prisoners to defuse a situation peacefully without the need for force."
Following the use of force on an inmate, the prisoner is normally placed into a safe cell.
"Within three hours of the incident the prisoner is required to be assessed by a registered health professional and interviewed by prison management," Milne said.
He said staff recognised the importance of understanding and engaging with prisoners to reinforce positive behaviour.