17 May 2010
Earlier today we wrote about the tragic death of American immigrant Jason Palmer, a corrections officer at Spring Hill Prison. Mr Palmer died after an assault by an inmate who is alleged to be a member of the Killer Beez gang.
Mr Palmer, an ex member of the US Marine Corp, had been living in New Zealand for eight years but something led to him joining the prison service six months ago, a job he had reportedly described as a “hand-to-hand combat situation”
The Waikato Times has published an update to their earlier reporting, in it they say that Mr Palmer had felt unsafe at the prison and had wanted to leave:
Spring Hill prison guard Jason Palmer had fears for his safety and had been contemplating a transfer before he was fatally assaulted on Saturday…
The US-born father of two was with two other prison officers who went to let the prisoner out of his single cell in the north Waikato prison.
Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon said Mr Palmer wanted out of Spring Hill. “Jason was looking for a transfer. He felt unsafe there.”
Mr Hanlon also confirmed five senior Spring Hill prison guards had transferred to Waikeria Prison over the past 12 months due to fears for their safety.
The Times understands two of those officers took a demotion, with one taking a pay cut of around $12,000 a year.”
Mr Hanlon says prison officers need greater protection against inmates:
“The police walk around with anti-stab vests, battens and pepper spray and are within a radio call. They have Tasers and even firearms. We’re not talking about firearms, were talking about everything else. At the moment, they know all we’ve got is a cotton uniform.”
Mr Hanlon says what is even more tragic is that they had told Corrections a number of times they were worried about staff security at Spring Hill.”
New Zealand has one of the world’s highest incarceration rates at 186 people per 100,000 population and there are 19 prisons.
The country is already under massive pressure trying to cope with an ever increasing prison population.
A massive recruitment drive in Western Australia may push Kiwi jails to the brink of collapse, according to Mr Hanlon almost a quarter of the officers at one prison have already made it through the first round of the selection process:
“We have one prison, Rimutaka, in Wellington, with 1200 prisoners and 400 staff – and over 90 of their officers have made it through the first stage of Western Australian recruitment.
Mr Palmer’s death and a growing unease over rates of pay and personal safety is likely to spur more into making the decision to leave.
A former Invercargill prison officer has told the press that the attack on Mr Palmer could have happened at any prison in New Zealand, adding that understaffing is rife among in the country and Mr Palmer should not have been dealing with such a dangerous prisoner after only 6 months on the job:
The fatal attack on a prison guard in Waikato at the weekend could have happened at any jail in New Zealand as the system battles with understaffing, a former Invercargill Prison officer said.
Brian Duncan, who worked at the city prison for 37 years before retiring in December 2008, said understaffing was rife across New Zealand jails, meaning inexperienced officers were being put at risk.
While assaults on corrections officers were “part and parcel” of the job, he questioned how Jason Palmer, 33, came to be handling such a dangerous prisoner six months into his job at Spring Hill Corrections in Waikato.
“He (the inmate) was in a segregation area – that is because he’d done something wrong and there were three officers there – that means he was a bad-arse.”
The jail was understaffed, Mr Duncan said.
“I know that up there (at Spring Hill) as staff leave they are not being replaced – exactly the same is happening here (in Invercargill).”