Media Statement: 20 September 2021
Please attribute to Neil Beales, Chief Custodial Officer:
Five prisoners at Mt Eden Corrections Facility who had contact with a man who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday 17 September have returned negative day 3 test results. They will continue to be managed in line with our quarantine protocols, with further tests to be carried out. Two prisoners initially refused to be tested, however one changed his mind this morning and has today been tested. Prisoners who refuse to be tested are managed in line with our quarantine protocols, and anyone who refuses testing will be managed like this for 28 days.
Seven staff who had contact with the prisoner are self-isolating at home and being supported by prison and regional management. Six of the seven staff have tested negative, with one test result not yet available. Yesterday we reported that five staff had been identified as close contacts – following a review of CCTV footage two further staff were identified, neither of these staff have been at work since Friday.
The prisoner who tested positive is being cared for by fully vaccinated health and custodial staff wearing PPE, including masks, gloves, gowns and eye protection. These staff will not have contact with other staff, effectively forming a bubble.
We are continuing to follow the advice of the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) and since March 2020 we have put in place extensive infection prevention and control plans.
The man was released from Mt Eden Corrections Facility on 8 September after being granted electronically monitored bail by the Court. He had been in custody since April 2021. Travel across the Alert Level boundary is permitted to enable someone to leave or change home after a period of requirement, detention or determination. This is outlined in schedule 5 sections 11 and 12 of the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Level Requirements) Order (No 11) 2021 and also on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.
We are confident that the man did not have COVID-19 while he was in prison. To prevent the potential for COVID-19 to enter a prison, all newly received prisoners are managed separately from longer serving prisoners for their first 14 days in custody, and tested for COVID-19 on arrival and on days 5 and 12, during alert levels 3 and 4. Newly received prisoners wear masks, and our staff also wear PPE (masks, gloves, eye protection and gowns) to prevent any potential for transmission. The receiving office and common areas in the separation unit are cleaned regularly. The only other case of COVID-19 in a prison was in May 2020, where a woman was managed in quarantine at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility for a short period of time after being remanded in custody from the community and then returning a positive result after being granted bail and leaving the prison.
On the day of his release the man was given his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and fitted with an electronic monitoring device before leaving the prison. His bail conditions required him to be collected by a family member and travel to the bail address without any unnecessary stops, and he left the prison at 10.09am.
Our GPS records indicate that he made four brief stops on the way to his bail address at Whakatiwai, two to private addresses in Mt Albert and Mangere, one to a supermarket in Pokeno and one stop on the side of the road close to his bail address. He arrived at the house at 12.28pm, 2 hours and 19 minutes after leaving the prison. He remained within the boundary of the bail address until 12.47pm on 16 September, when he visited a carpark about 250 metres away from the address, and then presented himself to Police because his address had become unavailable and the court had revoked his bail and issued a warrant for his arrest. He was then in Police custody overnight, before being transported to Mt Eden Corrections Facility on Friday 17 September, arriving at 6.45pm.
Corrections and Police jointly manage electronically monitored bail. Corrections assesses a person and their proposed address for EM bail suitability and carries out the electronic monitoring. Police are responsible for responding to all non-compliance and managing any other bail conditions imposed by the court.
- Please see yesterday’s update for more information about the man being received into custody on Friday night here: https://www.corrections.govt.nz/news/2021/newly_arrived_prisoner_at_mecf_tests_positive_for_covid-19.
- Corrections understands that testing is underway to determine the source of the man’s infection, and also the source of the infection for the young people residing at his bail address. It cannot be assumed at this stage that it was the man who has passed on COVID-19.
Media Statement: Sunday 19 September 2021
Please attribute to Neil Beales, Chief Custodial Officer:
Corrections has been advised by the Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) that a man remanded into custody (from the community) at Mt Eden Corrections Facility on Friday night has returned a positive test for COVID-19.
We manage all newly arrived prisoners separately from those that have been in custody for longer for their first 14 days in prison. Newly received prisoners wear masks, and our staff also wear PPE (masks, gloves, eye protection and gowns) to prevent any potential for transmission. The receiving office and common areas in the separation unit are cleaned regularly, and deep cleaning of the receiving office and cell that the man was accommodated in have taken place.
The man arrived at the prison at 6.45pm on Friday night and was tested for COVID-19 on his arrival. At Alert Levels 3 and 4 our standard process is to test all newly arrived prisoners on days 0, 5 and 12. The man was secured in his cell at 9.10pm and therefore had very limited contact with other prisoners and staff. He has now been moved into a dedicated quarantine area and is being cared for by fully vaccinated staff wearing PPE, including masks, gloves, gowns and eye protection. These staff will not have contact with other staff, effectively forming a bubble.
We are following the guidance of ARPHS and contact tracing has been carried out. The man was double bunked on Friday night, and the man he shared a cell with has also been moved to quarantine. Both prisoners were transported to the prison in a group of 13 by our contracted service provider First Security, who have been advised of the test result, along with Police and the Ministry of Justice. A further six additional prisoners have been identified as potential close contacts of the man and are also being managed in line with our quarantine protocols, with routine testing to be carried out on days 3, 5 and 12. All new receptions into custody are transported in a secure vehicle and both prisoners and staff are required to wear PPE. Our prisoner escort vehicles have enhanced cleaning procedures in place to prevent any potential for the virus to spread between movements.
We have provided information to all of the prisoners impacted so they fully understand the controls we are putting in place for their health and safety. They will continue to have access to Health Services staff who will assist them with any questions or concerns.
At Alert Level 4 the prison is closed to all visitors. Only essential staff are on site. Mt Eden Corrections Facility was our first prison to implement our smart-card proximity detection technology to assist with contact tracing. Five staff have been identified as having had close contact with the unwell prisoner, and all are self-isolating and getting tested. Staff welfare support has been put in place and I would like to thank all of our team at MECF for their professionalism and willingness to continue to carry out their essential work.
As an organisation, our top priority is safety – of the public, our staff, visitors to our sites and the people we are managing in prisons and the community. As we have seen in prisons internationally, the impact can be devastating. We have a duty of care to the men and women we manage in prisons, and to our staff, and we are well prepared for this situation. Since March 2020 we have put in place extensive plans to manage any risk to our staff or the people we manage, including robust infection prevention and control plans at all Alert Levels, with detailed record keeping for both staff and visitors to our sites to enable fast and thorough contact tracing.
Information on Corrections vaccination programme
As at 12 September, 564 staff at MECF had received their first COVID-19 vaccination, with 389 staff fully vaccinated. These numbers include only vaccinations of staff given at prison sites, and do not include any staff who have been vaccinated in the community by their DHB (this information is not collected by Corrections).
As at 12 September, 481 prisoners at MECF had received their first COVID-19 vaccination, with 10 prisoners fully vaccinated.
In total, 5,423 prisoners nationwide have received their first dose of the vaccine in prison, and 1,969 prisoners have received both doses. Some of these prisoners will be have been released from custody. Today’s prison population is 8,069 people.
Corrections knows that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best thing that we can all do to keep ourselves, the people we manage, our team and our wider community safe from COVID-19. We are committed to ensuring that all of our staff and people in prison have access to the COVID-19 vaccination on an ongoing basis and we are strongly and actively encouraging everyone to take up the opportunity to be vaccinated.
While vaccinations for our staff and people in prison are not compulsory, since the launch of our vaccination programme in May we have taken a proactive approach to strongly encourage everyone to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We have a dedicated national team overseeing our vaccination programme, and custodial and health COVID-19 vaccination leads at each prison. Comprehensive communications have been enacted throughout, which includes but is not limited to provision of information about vaccine safety and effectiveness via a dedicated page on our internal website (for staff), information and engaging material on prisoner kiosks, Prisoner TV, forums and conversations with health staff, posters, pamphlets and other materials, including in a range of languages.
We continue to explore different means of reaching our staff and people in prison to strongly encourage them to be vaccinated. This includes local and national initiatives and shared insights across our prisons to boost uptake of the vaccine. Initiatives include promoting word of mouth discussions with influential leaders in our prisons, culturally targeted educational forums, and a drive-through vaccination clinic at Rimutaka Prison that took place recently.
We have followed Ministry of Health guidance throughout the roll-out of our vaccination programme to staff and people in prison. Prison-based staff across New Zealand are included in Group 2 of the vaccination roll-out. People in prison at Auckland South Corrections Facility and Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility are also in Group 2 due to their location in the high-risk area of Counties Manukau. Prisoners at all other sites are in Group 3 of the vaccination roll-out.
On June 11 Corrections was advised that a decision had been made by the Ministry of Health to slow the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine to certain groups, including people in prison. This decision was made in order to manage stocks of the vaccine in the lead up to new vaccine deliveries. As a result, Corrections paused the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine to prisoners at all sites from Monday 14 June. Our prisoner vaccination programme resumed in late July. Where prisoners have declined vaccinations previously, we continue to actively engage them and provide further information and opportunities to be vaccinated as a priority. All prison sites are also offering the vaccine to all prisoners newly received into prison, and if they decline at that point, we continue to provide additional opportunities for them to take up the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Our own Corrections Health Services teams at prisons have been administering COVID-19 vaccines to people in prison as part of their role as frontline health workers. Prisons have developed robust site vaccination plans which involve appropriate levels of oversight from custodial staff during the vaccination process. Private providers were used to vaccinate staff on site at prisons initially, and since the commencement of the current Delta outbreak, prison-based staff are now able to be vaccinated by our Health Services staff onsite at any prison. For those staff who have previously declined the vaccine, we continue to engage, provide information and actively encourage them to take up the opportunity now.