Prisoner complaints

Defining a complaint

A complaint exists when a prisoner, or other person acting in the interests of a prisoner, formally draws attention, either orally or in writing, to any action which the complainant wishes to have investigated.

PC.01.01 Complaint resolution approach

  1. Our approach is to resolve complaints informally at the lowest level, usually by staff at the unit or site. If this cannot happen, the Department has a three tiered process to manage complaints through a formal process:
    1. at the prison site
    2. the Corrections Services Complaints Response Desk (CRD) at National Office
    3. Inspector of Corrections (see PC.01.13 Complaints to official agencies for more information including contact details).
  2. Prisoners should contact the Inspectorate in the first instance for any complaint where there exists an immediate timeframe that may affect a particular outcome. These include:
    1. any situation that indicates concern about the immediate safety of any individual, including complaints about a prisoner not receiving medication
    2. prisoner misconduct matters where the prescribed timeframes are alleged to have not been met
    3. prison management decisions relating to temporary removal / release on compassionate grounds.

PC.01.02 Initial issue raised by prisoner

  1. If a prisoner raises an issue (including a concern or query) with a staff member, the staff member assists by taking all reasonable attempts to address the issue. Staff being responsive to any issues raised by a prisoner may eliminate a subsequent complaint.
  2. Staff consider whether / if:
    1. this is something they can answer
    2. they know who could provide the answer
    3. this is something they can find the answer to
    4. this is something they can direct the prisoner to find on the kiosk.
  3. Staff must enter a file note in IOMS detailing the issue and attempts to answer / resolve it. The file note heading/s must relate to the most appropriate description of the issue.
  4. Staff (and persons conducting formal complaint interviews) should refer to the PC.01.Res.09 Considerations for effective complaint resolution resource to assist with informal and formal (interview) to assist with resolving prisoner issues.

PC.01.03 Making a complaint

  1. If an issue cannot be resolved informally and a prisoner wishes to make a complaint, unit staff must:
    1. advise the prisoner of the internal complaint process and may provide a copy of the information booklet (see PC.01.Res.04 Information on the complaints process in prisons)
    2. provide the prisoner with a PC.01 Form.01 Prisoner complaint.

PC.01.04 Prisoner completing the PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint

  1. Staff must assist any prisoner who appears to have difficulties with oral or written communication, or has difficulty communicating in English with completing the PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint.
  2. The prisoner is advised that they may have a support person who can:
    1. assist in completing the form
    2. act as an interpreter
    3. assist in responding and representing the prisoner’s complaint, but;
    4. not act in any legal capacity or be legally qualified.
  3. The prisoner can record any information on the form outlining the complaint. Exceptions the prisoner must be advised about include:
    1. health complaints – the prisoner does not need to disclose any personal health information on the form
    2. if the complaint relates to a person that the complaint may be referred to, the nature of the complaint does not need to be disclosed.
  4. If information is withheld from the form for the above reason/s, staff must not ask the prisoner about it (see ‘Recording complaint details’ below for further guidance).

PC.01.05 Receiving a complaint

  1. When an officer receives a PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint they complete sections 2 and 3 on the form and then create a copy of the form and give the copy to the prisoner as confirmation their complaint has been received.

PC.01.06 Recording complaint details

  1. The officer receiving the PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint must enter the complaint details into Section A of the IOMS complaint screen.
  2. The complaint details are entered exactly as the prisoner has written them, with the following exceptions:
    1. if the complaint is about staff conduct or attitude, the name of the staff member involved is not recorded in IOMS
    2. if the complaint is about a health matter and private health information has been included, the specific pieces of private information are not to be recorded in IOMS. If the prisoner has provided private health information on their form, that information should be replaced with an excerpt such as ‘private health information removed’.
  3. Once the complaint details have been entered in the IOMS complaint screen the officer receiving the complaint must provide the prisoner with the numbered copy of the IOMS generated Complaint registration form within 24 hours of the complaint being received from the prisoner. The officer needs to tick the ‘copy given to inmate’ box as a record that the prisoner has been given the IOMS form.

PC.01.07 Referring a complaint

  1. Once the complaint is registered in IOMS the officer ensures the unit principal corrections officer (PCO) is notified that a complaint requires action.
  2. The PCO will manage the complaint process by recording the initial ‘action taken’ in section B of the IOMS complaint screen. This will normally involve copying the informal advice /communication with the prisoner that was entered in the IOMS file note by the officer attempting to informally resolve the issue and pasting the file note into section B. Any other relevant information leading to the complaint being made should also be added in section B.
  3. The PCO will decide who is best placed to take the action to resolve the complaint and interview the prisoner. This will most often be the PCO themselves, however, may be another appropriate person such as a residential manager. The PCO may use other information, such as details in the relevant files notes to make informed decisions.
  4. If the complaint cannot be resolved at the unit level it must be referred to the next appropriate level within 3 days of being registered in IOMS.
  5. Complaints must be referred on in the following cases:
    1. staff conduct and attitude must be referred to the prison director
    2. Note: Any allegation of the following are managed as per instructions set out in IR.07 Staff related incident report and investigation:
      1. assault by staff on prisoner
      2. assault by staff on other person
      3. criminal offence by staff (other than assault) while on duty
      4. misconduct by staff while on duty.
    3. complaints about a prison director must be forwarded to the regional commissioner by the prison director
    4. complaints about health services must be referred to the health centre manager who will arrange an interview within 7 days of being notified
    5. complaints about offender employment activities must be referred to the manager industries who will arrange an interview within 7 days of being notified.
  6. If the PCO is referring a complaint to the next appropriate level they must note this in section B of the IOMS complaint screen (along with any other actions taken). A numbered copy of the IOMS generated Complaint form with the updates is printed and given to the prisoner to keep them appraised of progress with their complaint. ‘Copy to inmate’ is ticked in section B to record the copy has been provided.

PC.01.08 Actions to resolve complaint

  1. The person who the complaint was referred to by the PCO (or the PCO themselves if they have interviewed the prisoner) will complete section C ‘further action taken’ in the IOMS complaint screen. This includes relevant information from the interview with the prisoner, IOMS files notes or further information obtained following speaking with staff involved.
  2. Once section C is completed in IOMS, the person conducting the interview (or the PCO) prints another numbered copy of the IOMS generated complaint form for the prisoner and ticks ‘copy to inmate’ in section C.
  3. If a prisoner is received on transfer and complaints are located on the prisoner’s file that have not been recorded in IOMS, the PCO must record them in IOMS and register the complaint against the prison in which the events occurred. Once the PCO has recorded the complaint(s) in IOMS they must notify the applicable prison director by email that the complaint has been recorded in IOMS for them to complete the process.
  4. If the prisoner is Off Muster at the time the complaint is processed, staff must still record the complaint in IOMS. If the complaint relates to compensation (for lost or damaged property) or alleges misconduct by staff, the complaint must be managed as if the prisoner was still On Muster. Apart from this requirement to record the complaint on IOMS, all other complaints for Off Muster prisoners can be closed as there is no meaningful way to progress a complaint in the prisoner’s absence.

PC.01.09 Interviewing the prisoner

  1. The prisoner must be interviewed within 3 working days of the complaint being registered in IOMS, the exceptions to this are if the complaint:
    1. cannot be resolved at unit level and the PCO or residential manager is not conducting the interview, the PCO must email anyone else they refer a complaint to within 3 working days of the complaint being registered in IOMS
    2. has been referred on by the PCO, that person has seven working days from being advised to conduct the interview and update IOMS section C ‘further action taken’.
  2. At the interview the prisoner can be accompanied by a support person as long as that support person is not the prisoner’s legal advisor.
  3. The interviewer attempts to resolve the complaint promptly where possible.

PC.01.10 Complaint resolution

  1. The interviewer is responsible for detailing the outcome of the interview in section C ‘further action taken’ of the IOMS complaint screen within 7 days of receiving notice to conduct the interview. The outcome includes any action the Department has taken in response to the complaint or any decisions made as a consequence of the complaint.
  2. If an action is agreed on and the prisoner accepts the resolution of the complaint, this information is recorded in section C. The prisoner is then provided with a numbered copy of the IOMS generated complaint form. ‘Copy to inmate’ and ‘situation resolved’ can then be ticked in IOMS. Ticking ‘situation resolved’ closes the complaint.
  3. If the interviewer is unable to resolve the complaint, they may need to refer it to a person at the next level of delegated authority as follows:
    1. if the interview was conducted by the PCO, they must refer the complaint to the residential manager
    2. if the interviewer needs to escalate the complaint they must ensure the next person to further interview the prisoner is informed
    3. the complaint must be left 'open' in IOMS (do not tick 'situation resolved)
    4. section C 'further action taken' is updated to reflect the outcome of the initial interview (including who the complaint is being referred to)
    5. once section C is updated the interviewer must provided the updated, numbered version of the IOMS generated complaint form to the prisoner and tick 'copy to inmate'.
  4. The person who receives the unresolved complaint is responsible for investigating it within 14 days of referral. This person is also responsible for ensuring the prisoner is informed of progress.
  5. When the complaint is ongoing the investigator must notify the prisoner on a monthly basis in writing (by printing the updated IOMS generated Complaints form and giving it to the prisoner) and if practicable, orally, of progress on the complaint. These actions are recorded in section C ‘further action taken’.
  6. A complaint is resolved internally when any one of the following has occurred:
    1. all legal and reasonable steps have been taken to address the substance of the complaint
    2. the complainant withdraws a complaint
    3. it is referred on to an appropriate external complaint official agency
    4. it is referred back to an appropriate lower level for any action agreed to be taken.
  7. When a complaint is resolved, the interviewing person will complete section C, print a copy of the resolution and give it to the prisoner (see PC.01.11 Next steps below before closing the complaint) then tick ‘copy to inmate’ and tick ‘situation resolved’.

PC.01.11 Next steps

  1. Where the prisoner is not satisfied by the resolution provided by the site, the prisoner must be advised of the next steps. The prisoner can contact the:
    1. Complaints Response Desk on 0800 326 778 for further advice or support
    2. Department of Corrections Ministerial Services, in writing for unresolved complaints regarding personal or official information at:
      Ministerial Services
      National Office
      Department of Corrections
      Private Box 1206
      Wellington 6140
    3. Inspector of Corrections in writing or by calling 0800 225 697
    4. following external official agencies:
      1. Office of the Ombudsman 0800 662837
      2. Health and Disabilities Advocacy Service 0800 555050
      3. Health and Disability Commission 0800 112233
      4. Privacy Commissioner 0800 803909
      5. Independent Police Conduct Authority 0800503728
      6. Human Rights Commission 0800496877.

PC.01.12 Frivolous or vexatious complaints

  1. If the interviewing officer considers that the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, they must refer the matter to the prison director. The prison director must consider each complaint on a case by case basis, and determine if the complaint:
    1. is an abuse of the complaint process
    2. is not made in good faith
    3. attempts to re-open an issue that has been properly resolved.
  2. The prison director must consult with the senior advisor to the regional commissioner before determining whether or not to investigate a frivolous or vexatious complaint.
  3. If the prison director decides that the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, the prison director must ensure that the prisoner is promptly notified in writing (by completing the "agreed action" section on the IOMS generated Complaints form and providing the prisoner with a copy of this form) and, if practicable also orally, of the decision not to investigate the complaint.
  4. The prison director must advise the prisoner about their right to complain to an official agency (e.g. the Office of the Ombudsmen or Inspector of Corrections).
  5. Prison directors are responsible for maintaining a register of all complaints not investigated because they are considered to be frivolous or vexatious (made up of completed PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint and IOMS generated complaints forms with evidence that this decision was made in consultation with the senior advisor to the regional commissioner).

PC.01.13 Complaints to official agencies

  1. Prisoners must be advised that they have the right to seek assistance from official agencies for the purpose of resolving a complaint at any time. Prisoners must however be advised that for most complaints they will need to follow the internal process and receive a response from the site before the Inspectorate or external agency can address their complaint (see PC.01.11 Next steps above for the list of external agency contacts).
  2. Serious complaints must be referred to a suitably qualified and independent person to investigate, in a way that enables a prompt resolution to the allegation. An Inspector of Corrections will monitor the conduct and outcome of any such investigation.
  3. Prisoners can request an interview with an Inspector during the next visit cycle. Staff must ensure the prisoners name is registered on the visit list by informing the prison director. A prisoner requesting an interview does not need to register a complaint, however, the Inspector may refer the prisoner back to the Prisoner complaint process if the interview is about a complaint.
  4. The prison director records the names of prisoners who wish to have an interview with a Inspector to the appropriate regional Office of the Inspector of Corrections.
  5. The Inspector of Corrections will, if practicable, provide the prison director with at least 48 hours notice of an impending visit, and advise who they intend to interview.
  6. Notices of upcoming visits by an Inspector of Corrections must be prominently displayed.
  7. The prison director must take reasonable steps to facilitate these interviews and ensure that the prisoner is given at least 24 hours notice of an upcoming interview.
  8. If required, the prison director will provide an oral briefing to the Inspector of Corrections.
  9. An Inspector of Corrections must be given access to any person in a prison at which the complainant is / was detained and have access to any records that are relevant to the complaint for the purpose of investigating a complaint.
  10. An Inspector of Corrections may at any time enter a prison and have access to all parts of the prison (including any vehicle used for the transportation of any prisoner during the complainant's period of detention) and any other prisoners for the purpose of investigating a complaint.

PC.01.14 Official agencies recommendations

  1. The prison director must ensure that the recommendations of the official agency are responded to in an appropriate manner.
  2. Where a complaint to an Inspector of Corrections requires the Inspector's intervention in order to bring about the correct outcome, that complaint will be deemed to be justified. Any of the following conditions may apply:
    1. the action or outcome being complained of did not comply with the applicable legislation, operating standards or lawful local instructions
    2. the action or outcome being complained of was not safe, fair or reasonable in the circumstances
    3. the matter was not dealt with in a timely fashion upon being drawn to attention in the first instance.
  3. A complaint is unjustified if, upon being referred back to a lower level from a higher level where it has been received in the first instance, the matter is acknowledged at the lower level and resolved without requiring intervention by an Inspector of Corrections.