Corrections Association president Bevan Hanlon says he is dismayed over “leniency” shown towards inmates during the recent high-profile stand-offs at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison.
Mr Hanlon, a corrections officer at the prison, said inaction during the two recent incidents “sent the wrong message to prisoners”.
Nine inmates caused a disruption on Sunday night by refusing to return to their cells after one set his cell on fire and forced an evacuation.
Five days earlier, a group scaled a building and remained on a rooftop for more than 24 hours.
“But that was after ripping the place apart for hours before getting on to the roof,” Mr Hanlon told Hawke’s Bay Today.
“In America, these guys would have been gassed with pepper spray and brought in straight away.”
Sunday’s fiery protest and evacuation was about cigarettes, he said. “I agree that the second incident was copycat … but it was only copycat because they knew they could get away with it.”
Staff and prisoners were on edge since the incidents. Fewer staff and decreased prisoner “unlock hours” had added to the unrest, he said.
“These [prisoners] aren’t the brightest of people, and it only takes one to spark something and you get a dangerous pack mentality working itself into a frenzy.
That’s a very dangerous situation.
“We needed to send a clear message to prisoners that this sort of behaviour is not okay. We’ve got highly trained, experienced staff here that can do just that.”
The prison’s manager, George Massingham, said unlock hours had not been systematically reduced. “Most prisoners are out of their cells for eight hours a day unless their behaviour makes that unmanageable,” Mr Massingham said. “I’m confident that any acting out by prisoners is related to the general nature and behaviour of prisoners.”
Prisoner protests potentially restricted other inmates’ access to work, rehabilitation programmes, and phone calls.
“They naturally may feel disgruntled at the instigators.”
Last week’s rooftop protest was resolved without compromising safety, he said.