Please attribute this to Rachel Leota, National Commissioner
We deliver an essential public service in prisons and communities, and we are committed to continuing our work to keep New Zealanders safe.
The actions we took earlier this year prevented the transmission of COVID-19 in our prisons, and kept our staff, the people we manage and our communities safe. We have continued our planning in the event of new cases being identified in the community, and we are well prepared to act now that we need to.
Following the announcement that at midday on Wednesday 12 August Auckland will move to COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and the rest of New Zealand will move to Alert Level 2, Corrections is operating to the fullest extent possible while ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and the people we manage continues to come first.
As we know from previous experience, Alert Level 3 means limiting physical interaction between people to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Therefore, we are continuing with our cautious approach, which has been successful to date.
At Alert Level 3, people must stay in their household bubbles unless attending school or work. As a result, in-person prison visits by family and friends in the northern region have been temporarily suspended. We are supporting people to maintain increased contact through telephone and video calls, letters and emails. Statutory visits (e.g., the independent Corrections Inspectorate and the Office of the Ombudsman) can still be facilitated. Legal visits and New Zealand Parole Board hearings can be facilitated by AVL.
Guided and temporary release of prisoners (for example, reintegration activities outside prison), temporary removal, release to work activities, face-to-face rehabilitation programmes and non-essential prison industries are temporarily suspended. Rehabilitation interventions for prisoners with an intensive need will be carried out. We will also continue to deliver in-prison health services.
For the rest of our prison sites around the country, we will be operating under Alert Level 2 guidelines and “playing it safe”.
There are 18 prisons across New Zealand and operations vary from site to site depending on the security classification of prisoners, the number of prisoners accommodated at each prison and facilities available. We are assessing on a site by site basis whether face to face visits with prisoners will continue for friends and family at our other sites this weekend, in line with our deliberately cautious approach. Everyday we are required to balance the needs of the people we’re managing while ensuring the safety of our staff and the public at all times. In-person legal visits and New Zealand Parole Board hearings will be facilitated when requested, however we encourage the use of phone or AVL options where possible. Additional safety measures will be in place for all visitors to all sites, including increased hand hygiene measures, the use of thermal imaging cameras on entry, physical distancing and PPE (masks) to be worn by all people who will have face to face contact with prisoners.
Although in Alert Level 2 bubble restrictions are no longer in place, the requirement for all of us to practice physical distancing remains. Where it is safe to do so and operationally possible, we will continue education, employment, rehabilitation and constructive activities, with physical distancing maintained.
At our sites in Auckland and across New Zealand we will continue to have a number of controls in place to minimise risks relating to the transmission of COVID-19 to keep everyone safe, including health screening for every person who enters a prison. PPE will continue to be used by all staff working with prisoners, and all visitors to our sites. We will also continue to maintain the separation of people coming into custody for their first 14 days from those who have been in prison for longer periods.
All Community Corrections in the northern region will close to people visiting these sites, with people serving community-based sentences and orders reporting to probation staff by phone. Home visits will continue where required and where they can be carried out safely with the use of health screening, physical distancing and PPE. This includes when non-compliance or safety risks are identified, or someone has been identified has needing additional support. A limited number of staff will work from sites on a rostered system to meet operational requirements. This enables us to provide Audio Visual Link (AVL) access to New Zealand Parole Board members, staff and lawyers. Community Corrections sites around the remainder of the country will remain open, but some people serving community-based sentences and orders will be contacted by probation staff by phone. Staff are continuing to assist people to source accommodation and provide other practical support. Community work is suspended across all sites in the greater Auckland area while Alert Level 3 restrictions are in place. In the rest of the country community work has been temporarily suspended, but we are looking to resume where it is safe to do so with Alert Level 2 restrictions in place. Court reports and advice and support to the judiciary will continue.
As per our current process, all electronic monitoring of offenders in the community is continuing as usual, including the installation or removal of monitoring equipment. Our contracted providers around the country will be wearing PPE when carrying out home visits.
We have a large workforce of over 10,000 people who come to work every day to keep New Zealanders safe. I would like to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of our essential workforce who have done an exceptional job in very challenging circumstances. While the challenge presented by COVID-19 is significant, I know that our people are committed to the safety of all of our communities, and I am grateful for their service.