Inmates at New Zealand's Mt Eden Correctional Facility (MECF) were somehow filmed knocking seven bells out of each other while engaging in organised fights. Six of these videos have ended up on YouTube. Mobile phones are prohibited at the 120 year old prison – as is repeatedly punching people in the head – so there's understandably some confusion and embarrassment surrounding the release of the footage.
Viewers were able to identify the location of the fights from clothing bearing the words "SERCO MECF" and worn by individuals in the videos. Serco is the global outsourcing giant that, in 2011, signed a 10 year NZ$300 million (£125 million) contract to manage Mt Eden. In the three years that followed, Mt Eden recorded more prisoner assaults than any other NZ prison.
Speaking with NZ's One News, Serco's Director of Operations stated the issue was being looked into. "I have commissioned a thorough investigation which will examine these incidents. We will work with the Department of Corrections on any necessary actions arising," Scott McNairn said.
The footage shows one-on-one fights taking place inside cells, while other prisoners watch. Chatter and laughter can be heard in the background, throughout the clip. At one point during the video, a combatant falls down and another inmate can be heard saying "let him up". Visible tattoos suggest that at least some of the participants are Black Power gang members.
While punches and kicks do land, and participants at times seem visibly dazed, the action seems more like something you'd see in a ring than your spontaneous, garden variety prison assault. Despite the fact that onlookers can be heard shouting and cheering throughout the video, none of the altercations are interrupted by guards.
For its part, the prison is investigating the incident to find any procedural breakdowns. A representative also stated that despite their "best efforts to ensure risks are mitigated, we cannot prevent all assaults and no jurisdiction in the world has achieved this." Still, preventing separate cases of assault and missing six raucous and probably organised fights that are then filmed on a contraband phone seem like different things.
Corrections northern regional commissioner, Jeanette Burns, told stuff.co.nz they're currently working with prison management to find out how the footage made it to YouTube. So far this year, 27 mobile phones and 22 SIM cards have been confiscated in the facility. Our thoughts go out to Jeanette who is about to have shitty time at work.
The leaked footage surfaced days after convicted murderer Nikki Roper was hospitalised following a severe beating in the Mt Eden prison yard. Corrections has reiterated its zero tolerance policy for assaults on staff, prisoners or guards, commenting: "No assault is acceptable; However, it is an unfortunate reality that from time to time this will occur."