Inmate complains after prison transfer refusal

4:11 pm on 20 September 2017

A convicted murderer has accused the Corrections Department of not considering all relevant factors in refusing his application to be transferred from Rimutaka Prison near Wellington, to Tongariro Prison in the central North Island.

Prison wire.

Stephen Hudson wants to be transferred from Rimutaka Prison. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Stephen Hudson told the High Court in Wellington he had formally complained about being held in a high security unit at Rimutaka, despite his security classification being low-medium.

He said he had sought segregation, meaning he only ever saw one other prisoner.

"And that prisoner never went out in the yard, so effectively I was in solitary confinement."

Hudson said in one response to his transfer request, Tongariro Prison's manager Lyn O'Connor described him as unsuitable for transfer to that facility because they prioritised giving places to inmates nearing the end of their sentence who were preparing to be reintegrated into the community.

He said Ms O'Connor also raised a misconduct charge against him for fighting with another prisoner, which was never prosecuted by the Department.

"They looked at camera footage, saw it was self-defence and chose not to proceed but the man attempting to assault me was prosecuted."

"I say every person has the right to defend themselves against unlawful violence, [and] to attempt to impose some sort of penalty on a person's right to defend themselves from assault is an adverse consequence ... effectively a weakening of the right to self-defence."

Hudson said the authorities were also required to hold prisoners in the least restrictive facility possible and to take into account their proximity to family members, but Ms O'Connor had not considered those matters.

He said she also labelled him as being at a high risk of escaping, but his last escape attempt had been in 2003.

"Again [that is] taken into account in my security classification assessment, and I believe her saying I'm a high risk of escape is ignoring the department's own risk assessment and replacing it with her own."

Hudson said Ms O'Connor also referred to writing her assessment in a rush because she was about to go on leave and he believed she did not give his request the amount of time she should have.

However the Crown lawyer, Matt McKillop, told Justice Churchman Ms O'Connor believed low-medium prisoners such as Hudson were not always a good fit for Tongariro.

He said the nature of Hudson's offending history affected his security classification, keeping it higher and while a time might come when his transfer to Tongariro Prison might be appropriate, that time was not right now.

Mr McKillop said Tongariro's manager also had the interests of other prisoners in mind and highlighted the tendency for prisoners to come to her facility when they were nearing their release date.

"And the tendency is for the programmes which Hudson requires to be offered later on nearer to release date, where they'll have the most effect and [that] effect won't wear off over time.

"Multiple prisoners could benefit from time at Tongariro but [might not have the opportunity] if a lifer was there for a number of years."

Mr McKillop said Stephen Hudson had been given the opportunity to reside in another unit, but that would have required him giving up his voluntary segregation status and he declined to do so.

He admitted Hudson's risk of escape mainly related to historic factors.

"In my submission the security classification overall suggests that placement in a low-security unit is appropriate, but not necessarily placement in this particular low security [Tongariro] prison."

Justice Churchman reserved his decision.