12 Jun 2012

Pepper spray use in prisons widened

10:21 pm on 12 June 2012

Pepper spray is to become more widely available as a safety tool for prison officers, but the Government has stopped short of allowing all guards to carry it on their belts to defuse violent situations.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says all prison staff will be trained in the tactical use of pepper spray, following a trial in 10 prisons which ended in November last year.

During the year-long trial, the spray was used once at the Otago Corrections Facility near Milton.

Anne Tolley says pepper spray was used as a last resort at the jail during the trial, but can now be considered at the same time as other options. However, Corrections officers will still have to get approval to use it.

The union for prison officers says most staff want to carry the spray at all times, but Mrs Tolley told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday that would be too risky.

"If the officer is down or surprised, he or she does not have time to get the pepper spray from their belt. But the prisoners certainly will have time to take it.

"We want to ensure the safety of our officers, but we also want to make sure for their safety that whatever we make available is not used against our prison officers."

However, Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon told Checkpoint the minister is ill-informed.

Mr Hanlon says if an inmate stole his radio and hit him with it, that would do more damage than pepper spray and guards need to be able to carry spray in all high-security units.