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Animals in prisoner food: Serco report

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 11/08/2016

A draft report into Serco's running of Mt Eden prison alleges fight clubs were likely happening on a weekly basis, birds were getting into inmates' food and some prisoners may have been denied calls to lawyers for "significant periods of time", according to court documents.

The High Court this week rejected Serco's request for a Corrections draft report into allegations of organised fighting at Mount Eden Corrections Facility to be rewritten to give it more chance to reply.

The company wanted the report quashed so it could respond to information given to investigators by anonymous prisoners, ex-prisoners and staff, saying it could potentially have "very significant" consequences for its business.

But Justice Karen Clark has found the report was fair and "without error".

"The [chief inspector] was consistently objective, balanced and concerned to meet his obligations of fairness to Serco," she said.

But although Corrections chief Ray Smith has said he will now go to the Ombudsman before deciding when to release the long-awaited report - announced in July 2015 - the court's decision reveals some of its findings.

Among the conclusions, the chief inspector's draft found food contaminated by animals may have been served to inmates and "had been stored in an uncovered and sanitary manner".

The evidence included footage of birds eating bread left on trolleys.

It also said it was likely some prisoners had been denied the right to call a lawyer for long periods of time.

Serco objected to both those findings, but Justice Clark called suggestions of lack of evidence "unfounded" and those topics weren't out of scope.

The report also found it was likely "organised fighting in the form of `contender fighting' or `fight club' occurred at least once a week during certain periods".

Justice Clark said it appeared Serco's proposal to get access to interview material appeared more to be a "fishing expedition", rather than to do with a concern over its rights.

In a statement following the ruling, Serco chief executive Mark Irwin said the company accepted the court's decision and the report's recommendations.

"[We] brought the proceeding because we had genuine concerns about the process," he said.

Serco took over the management of the Mount Eden remand prison in 2011, after winning a $300 million, 10-year contract.

The discovery of fighting footage uploaded to the YouTube streaming video website triggered an investigation into organised fighting and access to contraband in the prison, and came at a time when Serco's contract was up for review.

The government stepped in to run the prison last July and didn't renew Serco's contract in December.

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