Attributable to Rachel Leota, Corrections National Commissioner:

Corrections acknowledges the release of the report First, do no harm: Segregation, Restraint and Pepper Spray use in women’s prisons in New Zealand. We value the continued discussion about the ways in which women in the justice system are best supported to stop offending, and this report sits alongside the release of reports published by the independent Corrections Inspectorate last week based on recent data and analysis, and informed by comprehensive inspections of all three women’s prisons.

In response to the release of the Inspectorate reports, we have launched our new women’s strategy for 2021-2025, Wāhine - E rere ana ki te pae hou - Women rising above a new horizon. The strategy was developed in consultation with a range of predominantly wāhine Māori, including women with lived experience of the justice system, whānau, service providers, staff and a range of agencies and iwi organisations. It seeks to support restoration and reclamation for women and their whānau through oranga, or wellbeing.

An action plan within the strategy sets out a number of actions to be achieved over the next four years, including: easier access to the complaints process, and the establishment of wāhine panels to ensure women’s voices are better heard; increased support and accommodation for women in the community, particularly for women caring for children;  providing culturally responsive trauma training for staff; different procurement approaches to enable greater partnerships with Māori and an equity focus in delivering services; and developing a pregnancy healthcare pathway in conjunction with the College of Midwives and Nga Maia.

Corrections raised concerns with Dr Shalev regarding the report, including the conflation of different segregation and management regimes, and the use of some statistics that do not accurately reflect the environment and noted that the report was based on only one visit to Auckland Region Women’s Correction’s Facility in July 2020. In addition, the data used in the report is from 2019 and there have been considerable changes since that time, including the number of women in prison reducing by over 30 percent.

In light of these concerns, and in light of the comprehensive up-to-date and independent analysis provided by the Office of the Inspectorate, Corrections will be using the recommendations, findings, and considerations from the Inspectorate’s reports to inform the ongoing implementation of our strategy and work programme, however we will consider whether the report provides any additional insights on the work already underway.

While we acknowledge that we must do more, and we must do better for women in prison, considerable work has been done, or commenced since 2019. This includes:

  • The launch of Hōkai Rangi, our overarching organisational strategy aimed at delivering great outcomes with and for Māori in our care and their whānau, so that we can begin to address the significant over-representation of Māori in the corrections system
  • The implementation of the Women’s Prison Network Improvement Programme, which is implementing a range of initiatives that will contribute to women’s wellbeing and help reduce reoffending
  • Te Mana Wāhine Pathway in Canterbury, which will transform the way that Christchurch Women’s Prison will operate over four years, to then inform transformation at the two other women’s prisons
  • Ongoing work to strengthen our health, mental health and addiction services, including co-designing a new Kaupapa Māori Health Services to provide an end to end Kaupapa Māori approach to how health services will be developed, designed and delivered
  • The appointment of a mental health Clinical Nurse Specialist at both Arohata and Christchurch Women’s prisons to specifically support women with moderate to severe mental health needs. A similar, but more comprehensive, service is delivered at ARWCF by the Intervention and Support Practice Team
  • Establishment of He Kete, a community residential alcohol and drug treatment programme in Christchurch, through funding from the Proceeds of Crime Fund. He Kete is for women who are in the justice system, meaning that women on bail and community-based sentences can also be referred to the programme
  • Upgrades to the visitors’ centre at Arohata Prison and refurbishments to the bonding room and playground at ARWCF
  • A review of our current maximum security operating model, including personalised management plans
  • A $12 million work programme at ARWCF to establish additional recreation yards, to enable more recreation time in open spaces.

Pepper spray continues to remain a lawful, non-lethal option for corrections officers when they are faced with behaviour that threatens the safety and security of prisoners, staff or the prison. Pepper spray is used as a last resort, and only when an individual poses a significant threat to themselves, another prisoner, staff and/or property. As with any use of force, the use of pepper spray needs to be reasonable, necessary and proportionate to the circumstances. We have three delivery methods of pepper spray available: individual carry cannister for spontaneous use of force (MK3), a larger cannister that is used for a planned use of force (MK9), and a MK9 cannister with an extension wand that deploys a fine mist into a closed area such as a cell (which is marketed as ‘Cell Buster’).

Earlier this year, the Minister of Corrections sought advice from Corrections on whether the Corrections Regulations 2005 should be amended to more specifically set out the ways that pepper spray can be used in prisons. Following consultation with a number of stakeholders including the Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission, a paper was considered at Cabinet’s Social Wellbeing Committee last week. Work is underway on proposed amendments to the Corrections Regulations 2005 to ensure they explicitly define pepper spray delivery mechanisms by adding broad definitions that describe the key characteristics of the devices currently in use: the MK3, MK9, and MK9 with extension wand; and specify which mechanisms can be used in both spontaneous and planned use of force.

While we acknowledge that that maximum security classification is used significantly less in women’s prison than men’s, we must ensure that we have the appropriate management options available for those women whose behaviour is incredibly complex and challenging, and does mean they need to be managed under a regime that keeps themselves, other prisoners, and staff safe.

As noted in our response to the three independent Inspectorate reports last week, Corrections is in the process of reviewing the maximum security classification for women. As we have acknowledged, the maximum security regime that the women at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility were being managed in accordance with was based on what is in place for male prisoners and did not take into account the unique challenges and needs of women prisoners. In managing these women, we fell short of the high expectations we have of ourselves, and we have apologised to them for the way they were treated.

In reviewing the maximum security classification, we are working with a range of stakeholders including our union partners, iwi representatives, the justice sector’s Chief Science Advisor, the independent Corrections Inspectorate and staff at all three women’s prisons, to ensure we have a range of expertise and insight to guide our approach.

Download Letter from Corrections Chief Executive to Dr Sharon Shalev PDF, 1.8 MB

Download Corrections’ key areas of concern PDF, 233.1 KB with the factual accuracy and representation of information within the ‘First, do no harm: Segregation, Restraint and Pepper Spray use in women’s prisons in New Zealand’ report.