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"Goon Squad" inquiry welcomed

Published: 6:24AM Tuesday November 04, 2003

An independent inquiry into the so-called "Goon Squad" at Christchurch's Paparua Prison is being hailed as a chance to finally get to the bottom of the internal policing unit.

The unit was established in 1999 to tackle crime in prisons, but was scrapped a year later amid claims its unorthodox methods intimidated both inmates and other officers.

The squad's activities sparked an internal investigation and a police inquiry when a prisoner died while being moved by the unit. Three squad members were found guilty of misconduct.

Corrections Minister Paul Swain says he has asked the State Services Commissioner to undertake the inquiry because of continuing allegations and criticism of the Department's handling of issues related to the unit.

Swain says there are also lingering questions around the conduct of the squad and public doubt as to whether all matters had been investigated properly.

New Zealand First MP Ron Mark has long campaigned for an independent inquiry into the Emergency Response Unit, or "Goon Squad" and says there finally needs to be clear reasons given as to why it was set up and who authorised it.

"We've had a report that was quite detailed but what was disturbing was that many of the details that were highlighted by those investigating officers have since been kept secret and private."

He says the dissatisfaction around the case strikes at the very core of the integrity of the Corrections Department .

"If people like me are going to screaming at the government to lock people up for longer and give them harsher sentences you want to know that this Corrections Department is not corrupt...that it doesn't operate procedures that are outside its brief."

Many who lobbied for the inquiry are now insisting it must have broad terms of reference.

Prison officers say it is about time a thorough inquiry was held into the decisions behind the establishment of the squad.

National organiser of the Corrections Association , Brian Davies, says the issue has dragged on long enough and the issue of the Goon Squad has taken its toll on prison officers in Christchurch - particularly on the three members who were disciplined.

Lawyer, Rob Davidson, who represented a member of the squad at an Employment Court hearing last year says the inquiry into the unit should go all the way to the top.

Davidson says heads should roll as a result of the independent inquiry ordered by the government and the inquiry should go as high as the General Manager of prisons, Phil McCarthy.

The inquiry's terms of reference have yet to be announced, but the Howard League for penal reform says it should be allowed to scrutinise the culture of prison management.

The secretary of the Christchurch league, Kathy Dunstall, is hoping the inquiry will look at more than just operational aspects and should also cover Christchurch Women's prison.

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