Serco under fire at Mt Eden Prison after NZ smartphone fight club scandal


FIGHTS in prison are nothing new, but when they are organised, filmed on a prohibited smartphone and uploaded to YouTube, it’s a whole different kettle of fish.

That was a lesson the British company privately contracted to manage the Mt Eden Correctional Facility in Auckland found out the hard way.

On Monday, Serco was fined $NZ500,000 ($A328,750) and was prohibited from overseeing operations at the correctional facility while an internal investigation took place.

The fine came after six disturbing videos — shot on a smartphone and smuggled inside the prison — surfaced on YouTube earlier this month.

The videos showed prisoners participating in organised ‘fight clubs’ as large groups of fellow inmates watch on.

Inmates were also seen blatantly smoking and drinking alcohol in the videos, which were captured without the knowledge of staff.

However, the NZ prison officers union said bosses knew about the fight club for up to 18 months, but did nothing about it.

The ‘fight club’ videos were the latest in what has been a long list of inmate violence — with the correctional facility recording more assaults than any other facility in New Zealand since it signed a $300 million ($AU274 million) to take control of the prisons operations in 2011.

Serco under fire for prison fight club

Serco under fire for prison fight club

NZ Corrections boss Ray Smith said the department had enlisted a “crack team” of 20 corrections staff that would take over the running of the prison indefinitely.

While Serco staff will continue to work at the prison, their decision making abilities will be revoked and the company will also be required to pay the wages of the Department of Corrections employees.

“In all prisons, there are violent incidents and sometimes you get spikes,” he toldRadioNZ

“I think what we want to get underneath is whether we’re seeing something particularly unusual here.”

Speaking on the matter, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the allegations did not spell the end of privately-run prisons in the country.

“Those people who hate private sector provision of services and the like will say this is the moment that we told you so and it’s all wrong,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast.

“Yes, Serco may well have got some things wrong that may end very badly for them, I don’t know, it’ll depend on whether they have honoured their contract, but I don’t think you can say there’s no role for the private sector.”

Serco is contracted to run the prison until 2021, but this may be terminated early following the findings of the independent review due to be completed by the end of August.