Darroch Ball: Taking a tougher stance on prison guard assaults

Opinion 09/05/2019
Auckland Prison, Paremoremo Source: Newshub

By Darroch Ball, New Zealand First MP.

Over the past six years there have been more than 2500 recorded incidents of assaults against Corrections officers in our prisons, 75 of whom needed hospital treatment.

The issue of violence in our prisons is not new and isn’t showing any signs of letting up.

It shouldn’t be any real surprise that prisons are violent places, given the fact that those who end up there for any length of time have been in and out of the justice system for years and are doubly likely to be there for violent reasons.

What is a surprise for many people is the fact that when those inmates are hauled in front of a judge, found guilty of assaulting a prison guard and given more prison time, there is no actual guarantee that they will have any time added to their existing sentence. This is because those prison sentences handed down to already incarcerated prisoners are able to be served concurrently, meaning no actual extra time is added at all.

This needs to change for a number of reasons.

Corrections Association New Zealand (CANZ) has recently expressed the need for a stronger deterrent when addressing the issue of inmate assaults. It knows of a number of examples where officers where so badly assaulted they could no longer work and suffered ongoing medical issues, yet the inmate served no extra time.

Corrections officers work in a dangerous and high-risk environment where they are exposed to the sharp end of our criminal justice system on a daily basis. Adding to the tinder-box is the fact that, in most instances, these violent criminals hate authority and despise the system that locked them up in the first place. Too many of our Corrections officers are targeted because they are the authoritative face of that hated system.

The result of this is the staggering number of assaults which are occurring every year.

As a minimum we should expect that anyone who assaults those in uniform serving our communities to be held to account. But if the courts don’t impose a sentence that involves extra prison time, what deterrent is there for inmates?

The Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill, currently before Parliament, seeks to bring a minimum mandatory sentence of six months in prison for anyone who seriously assaults a first responder - police, fire or ambulance officer, or prison guard. In addition, New Zealand First has tabled an amendment which seeks to ensure that current inmates who are sentenced will have that time added on as a cumulative sentence and not served concurrently.

We need to do all we can to protect our first responders and Corrections officers.

This legislation will, at the very least, act as more of a deterrent than the existing sentencing framework allows and will ensure inmates think twice before lashing out at a prison guard.

Darrach Ball MP is New Zealand First Spokesperson on Law and Order.