Prison guards will soon be able to carry pepper spray, and use it without getting permission from higher up.
Currently guards can use pepper spray but it is kept within secure storage and requires approval from prison directors to be carried around – usually for high-risk events.
Minister of Corrections Louise Upston said pepper spraying a prisoner is a much safer use of force than others.
Pepper spray, also known as mace, is a chemical compound that causes intense pain to the eyes and face, temporary blindness, and some difficulty breathing.
“Pepper spray is a safe tactical option with a lower risk of injury compared with other means of force. It adds to the range of safety measures and tools rolled out in the past few years under the Corrections staff safety programme,” Upston said.
“It is crucial that Corrections staff are able to immediately control spontaneous and potentially dangerous situations to keep themselves and prisoners safe inside prisons and during escorts.”
Prison officers also have stab-proof vests and body cameras. The pepper spray will be the same police use.
The new rules would come into force in July when the Corrections Amendment Regulations 2017 come into effect.
Upston said all officers would be well-trained in how to use pepper spray safely.
Madeleine Rose, spokeswoman for prisoners’ advocacy group the Howard League, said the use of pepper spray was not “an ideal situation”.
“What would be ideal would if they could talk to them, if they had trained negotiators like the police.”
However she acknowledged that force was occasionally necessary and said her group received far more complaints about holds than pepper spray.
“They can be really heavy and over the top. So I guess using the pepper spray would mean not using those really severe restraints.”
Chief custodial officer Neil Beales said health staff on site would be trained to respond to pepper spray decontamination.
“Custodial staff receive ongoing specialist training in tactical communications, de-escalation and negotiation, including use of pepper spray and what processes staff should follow after use. Pepper spray has been available to prison personnel since 2012, when it was rolled out nationally following a twelve month trial,” Beales said.
He said deescalation would remain the preferred option and that Corrections does employ specialist negotatiors.