The Department of Corrections has met with three women to acknowledge and apologise for the way they were managed at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility (ARWCF) between February 2019 and February 2020 following preliminary findings of an investigation by the independent Corrections Inspectorate.
“The meetings with these women were a first opportunity for us to acknowledge and apologise for the systemic failures that led to these women being managed in line with an increasingly restrictive regime in response to their escalating challenging behaviours,” says Lynette Cave, Regional Commissioner.
“I would like to publicly reiterate the apology we have made to these women. Despite the challenges of working with people who sometimes exhibit very difficult behaviour, we must always uphold the highest standards. I am deeply sorry that for these three women, we didn’t.”
“During the meetings we agreed with each of the women to continue to meet with them and work through options for us to make amends. This will be guided by what they want to see happen in response, and is likely to include a formal apology, access to counselling, financial settlement and participation in designing our policies and practices for managing women with challenging and violent behaviour in future. Our intent is for this process to be mana-enhancing for the women, and restorative.”
“While we can’t undo how our actions affected these women at the time, or the distress they may have suffered, we have made a number of changes at the prison to prevent this from ever happening again, and it’s important that we now try to put things right for them.”
The initial meetings with each of the women took place on Friday 19 March 2021. They followed the Chief Inspector providing the department with the preliminary findings of an investigation into the women’s treatment over a period of 13 months in 2019 and early 2020, which were made available to Corrections late on Wednesday 17 March 2021.
The preliminary findings indicate that at the start of the review period in February and March 2019, the management of the women was appropriate, with their challenging behaviours being responded to in accordance with policy. However, from April 2019 this began to change, with some significant failures to adhere to expected standards.
“There is no doubt that these women presented staff with some challenges. They had significant involvement in a range of incidents which put themselves, other prisoners, and staff at serious risk. As their behaviour escalated, the response from staff was to manage them more restrictively,” says Ms Cave.
The preliminary findings stated that ultimately the women “were in a position where there were no more privileges or entitlements to remove, leading to increasingly difficult behaviour, and increasingly coercive actions to control behaviour,” stated Chief Inspector Janis Adair.
The Inspectorate identified that the women had been housed in confinement cells for reasons not directly connected to disciplinary matters. Confinement cells are intended to be used for disciplinary purposes only and lack some facilities that are required in other cells (ie: a power outlet). The women were effectively being segregated without staff having followed the process for directed segregation.
The Inspectorate also found that while the women were subject to management plans at the time, which set out behaviour expected from the prisoner to progress on their rehabilitation pathway. The Inspectorate considered that some elements of the plans were inappropriate. For example, the requirement that the women had to stand at the back of their cell before the door was opened, which may have exacerbated tensions; the requirement for three staff to be present when the cell door was unlocked, prompting staff to respond in large numbers escalating the women’s behaviour; and the requirement that the women kneel or lie on the floor before the cell door was opened to provide their meals, with their non-compliance meaning that food was withheld.
During the investigation, a number of staff were clear that they did not like the management plans or consider them appropriate, however at the time they lacked the confidence to challenge them. The management plans were signed off by senior staff at the prison and discussed at multi-disciplinary team meetings. The Inspectorate found there was“insufficient experience or expertise brought to bear on whether the management plans were appropriate, and there was evidence that they were implemented in a way that went beyond reasonable”. They further considered the situation a “systemic failure of oversight”.
The Inspectorate also identified that reports completed following strip searches of the three women did not always set out reasonable justification for the searches taking place, the women’s complaints were not escalated as would have been appropriate given their seriousness, their misconduct charges were often withdrawn leading to staff ceasing to file them which removed a layer of oversight, and unit staff were directed not to engage with the women.
The Inspectorate did find that force was generally only used as a last resort, despite becoming frequently necessary. However, use of force incidents were not always reviewed or filmed as required by policy. The planned use of force, including pepper spray, usually followed a long period of staff asking the women for compliance, including for two hours on 19 November 2019 before pepper spray was used.
“Over the 13 month period of the review a number of people were seconded into the roles of Prison Director and Deputy Prison Director, along with changes in the wider management team. Subsequently we have made changes to provide stable leadership at the prison, which I have great confidence in,” says Ms Cave.
“We have also commenced a $12 million programme of work to establish additional recreation yards to provide more recreation time in the fresh air, increased our oversight of unlock hours with monitoring by both the Prison Director and I, ensured dedicated engagement with maximum security women by the Deputy Prison Director, improved our monitoring of prisoner complaints, with a focus on timely response and resolution, and developed a trauma-informed approach to practice across the prison.”
In addition the prison has embedded a new multi-disciplinary team approach, with a range of staff including custodial, health, trauma counsellors, social workers and a pou tuhono (cultural adviser) working alongside the women themselves to develop comprehensive plans to guide their progress and rehabilitation.
The outcome of some of these changes were noted in a separate report by the Inspectorate following a prison inspection in June 2020. The report stated that women who were subject to directed segregation had up-to-date, tailored management plans, with plans for maximum security women being particularly good.
“I have no doubt that frontline staff at the prison were trying hard to manage the women in a way that prevented them from causing incidents and putting themselves and others at risk. However, the changes that have been made subsequently demonstrate there were other ways that we should have responded to the challenging behaviours that the women were exhibiting,” says Ms Cave.
The Inspectorate provided four indicative recommendations: confirm that no prisoners are subject to a similar regime throughout the prison network; consider the staffing, management and oversight of ARWCF in order to provide assurance that no other systemic issues persist; review the use of the maximum security classification for women; and review the use of management plans across the prison network.
Immediate assurance was sought from all prison directors to confirm that all prisoners at their sites who are subject to maximum security or directed segregation are being managed in accordance with appropriate and individualised management plans. The Department will await the Inspectorate’s final findings to determine our full response, however all recommendations will be accepted.
The Chief Inspector has advised that the Department can anticipate receiving a draft report for consultation by 31 March.
Special investigation into the management of three prisoners at ARWCF: Preliminary indication of investigation findings and recommendations PDF, 823.4 KB