Furious prison guards considered no confidence vote for Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis

Benedict Collins
Source: 1News

Furious prison guards considered holding a symbolic vote of no confidence in the Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis last week after accusing him of putting prisoners’ interests ahead of theirs.

A Corrections Association NZ newsletter to members obtained by 1 NEWS said the union had repeatedly raised concerns about rising violence against Corrections staff in prisons and been “ignored”.

“Despite CANZ providing constant and consistent feedback to National Office and the minister highlighting the reality of life inside prisons and violence facing staff, nothing is ever done,” it read.

“We contacted the minister, pointing out that staff across the country are so incensed by what they see as him supporting and advocating for prisoners, while ignoring staff, and staff have had enough.

"There is even a growing call for a vote of no confidence in the minister.”

The Corrections Association president Alan Whitley said today they decided against holding the symbolic no confidence vote because they want to continue trying to work with the minister, not against him, and don’t want to back him into a corner.

He said Corrections officers didn’t appreciate the fulsome apology Davis issued to several women prisoners who had been mistreated by guards and management at Auckland Women’s Prison while ignoring their calls for help on mounting violence.

But the National Party’s corrections spokesperson Simeon Brown told 1 NEWS today that Davis clearly isn’t doing enough to keep staff safe.

“They put their lives on the line every single day protecting us from some of the most dangerous members of society and they deserve a minister who backs them up and gives them the support that they need,” Brown said.

“Our Corrections officers are not feeling supported, they’re not feeling respected and they’re not given the tools they need to do their job and be safe while doing that.”

Davis wouldn’t be interviewed by 1 NEWS about the threatened no confidence vote by prison officers but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended his work in the Corrections portfolio during her post-Cabinet press conference.

”I have not worked with someone so committed to turning around what’s happening in the Corrections system,” Ardern said.

“He has a duty of care to keep those officers safe but also to try to change the prospects of when people are released into the community for them to ensure that they don’t return. I think he does a great job of keeping his eye on both tasks.”

In a written statement, Davis said keeping staff and prisoners safe were his top priorities.

“Assaults are never acceptable and I expect any perpetrators who resort to violence to be held to account for their actions. Corrections officers deserve to be safe at work.

"I receive regular briefings on assault levels and what the trends are, and how Corrections are working to reduce assaults and make prisons a safer environment. I know there are a number of actions and initiatives being taken to mitigate risk factors associated with prisoner assaults on staff.”

And the Corrections chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot also issued a statement to 1 NEWS, saying he was “deeply concerned” at every assault on a staff member.

“Just because assaults happen, does not mean it’s right by any account. The impact that assaults have on our staff and the worry that that then creates for their family and their colleagues cannot be downplayed.

"While we acknowledge an increase in ‘no injury’ and ‘non serious’ assaults on staff, this has not been reflected in the ‘serious’ assaults category.”

Lightfoot said serious assaults on prison officers were static.

“In 2015/16, there were 17 serious assaults, and in 2019/20 there were 18 serious assaults,” he told 1 NEWS.

Lightfoot said numerous initiatives had been introduced over the last 10 years to keep prison officers safe including stab resistant body armour, de-escalation training and increasing the number of rehabilitation places available to prisoners.