In May 2017, Mr X was one of twelve prisoners held in the custody unit at Gisborne Police Station. Mr X and his cellmate obtained a cigarette lighter from another prisoner in an adjacent cell. Mr X then set fire to a pile of toilet paper and strips of towel in his cell.
Smoke from the fire activated the cell’s fire alarm. Custody staff evacuated four prisoners, including Mr X, and extinguished the fire. One prisoner was taken to hospital as a precaution, but was soon returned to the custody unit.
Despite searching the prisoners and the cells, the cigarette lighter was not found for several days.
Police conducted an investigation, which was reviewed by the IPCA at its conclusion.
The Police investigation found systemic issues with the way prisoners were processed and managed in the custody unit. Custody staff were not consistently following correct procedures, or recording prisoner movements as required. Staff training was ad-hoc, and contraband items, such as cigarette lighters, were an ongoing problem at the custody unit.
The Police investigation also identified that custody staff did not use available firefighting equipment to extinguish the fire, and did not properly investigate the cause of the fire.
The Police investigation produced an ‘action plan’ of recommendations aimed at improving practices. Several of these recommendations have now been implemented. Custody staff on duty at the time were reminded about best practice expectations.
The IPCA agreed with the Police investigation outcomes and the actions taken to address the issues identified.