The independent Corrections’ Inspectorate has released its follow up report on Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility (ARWCF) today, recognising the challenges faced by the prison in recent years including managing an increased number of maximum and high security prisoners, and a doubling of the number of women on remand.

The inspection took place in June 2020 and Corrections’ Northern Regional Commissioner Lynette Cave says the resulting report has provided valuable feedback which has been taken seriously by the new prison management group.

“Significant progress has been made across a number of areas in the six months since the inspection,’ said Ms Cave. “I’m proud of the work done by staff under the leadership of the new Prison Director and management group, and it’s pleasing to see this recognised by the Chief Inspector.”

Some of the changes include:

  • Establishment of a $12 million programme of work to establish additional recreation yards to allow for greater provision of access to fresh air recreation time. This will also include upgrading existing high security fences, building improvements and other safety enhancements to the site. Early work is underway with potential design and construction partners.
  • Increased oversight of unlock hours, with robust systems now in place for recordkeeping and reporting to enable visibility for the Regional Commissioner and Prison Director to monitor
  • Appointment a new whanau-centred, kaupapa Maori parenting support service programme provider for the Mother and Baby unit
  • Reduced staff vacancies across the prison to just ten currently (of a total 285 positions)
  • The permanent appointment of a Health Centre Manager and Nurse Practitioner
  • Increased prisoner complaint monitoring, with a focus on timely response and resolution
  • Improved processes for approving prisoners’ whanau and friends on their contact and approved visitor lists
  • Re-establishment of a mobile library service for women in high security units.

“Importantly, women reported to the inspectors that they felt generally safe from bullying and violence, which was reflected in the significant decrease in incidents of abuse, threats and assaults in the six-month period to February 2020,” said Ms Cave.

“Staff must assess and manage a range of operational requirements on a daily basis relating to prisoners that can be unlocked together, including whether they are remand or sentenced prisoners, whether they are segregated or mainstream, their security classification and other dynamic issues such as gang tension and the association of co-offenders.”

“In one high security unit staff had introduced a staggered unlock regime meaning only 15 women were unlocked at any one time throughout the day, and it was considered that this change, along with a change in managers overseeing the unit, had helped reduce tension,” said Ms Cave.

The report also recognises that there are physical constraints with the facility at ARWCF due to changes in the women’s prison population.

When the prison was opened in 2006, it was the first in New Zealand to be purpose-built for women. It was also intended to accommodate women serving sentences of imprisonment of less than two years, with a focus on providing rehabilitation and reintegration services to reduce reoffending.

“While the focus has remained on reducing reoffending, there have been significant changes in the makeup of women accommodated at the prison, including an increase in women in custody on remand, a growing number of women with gang affiliations, an increased number of women sentenced to imprisonment for serious violent offending and the significant growth of the use of methamphetamine and its associated impact.”

Ten years ago, less than 25 percent of the women at the prison were on remand, awaiting conviction or sentencing. Today that has doubled, with half of the 350 women at the prison on remand, and managed in high security. Twenty-five percent of the women are also affiliated to a gang.

Because of its intended purpose, the prison was not constructed with traditional high security secure exercise yards, which has meant that despite the best efforts of staff, not all women in high security have been able to consistently spend their unlock hours outside. Establishment of a $12 million programme of work to upgrade existing recreation yard fences will ensure that women’s access to fresh air during unlock hours can more consistently be provided.

Despite the current constraints, the prison has made every effort to increase time in the fresh air for women in high security, who currently spend around three hours unlocked each day, with a portion of this time being spent more frequently in the fresh air. In addition, regular recording and monitoring of unlock hours has been implemented to ensure that this minimum entitlement is being met.

“Given the challenges in this area, the Northern Regional Leadership Team has significantly increased its oversight of the provision of this minimum entitlement. New systems for record keeping and reporting have been developed. This is designed to ensure that the women are consistently given their minimum entitlement.”

Another area of focus in the report was the delivery of health services. ARWCF has a higher than average number of hospital visits due to the high and complex needs of the women in the prison. The requirement for staff to escort women on these visits also puts a strain on staffing capacity and subsequently on the day to day management of the women.

“The Chief Medical Adviser is progressing a range of improvements across the prison network related to medical escorts, particularly those that are unplanned. We can expect this to have a positive impact on the women and the overall management of the prison,” said Ms Cave.

The delivery of health services was impacted by staff shortages and a lack of treatment rooms – both issues which have been resolved. In addition, telehealth being implemented to further reduce waiting times and mitigate the security risk of women being taken out of the prison for medical appointments. Simple x-rays are now being delivered on site, and mobile breast screening services are being explored.

Ms Cave says that Corrections is committed to ensuring that the prison network protects the safety of the prisoners, staff, contractors and visitors, and New Zealand communities.

“We do this by providing offenders with access to health and wellbeing services and every opportunity for change through participation in rehabilitation, education and employment. Our goal is to give them the best chance of living a life free from crime, and reducing the number of victims impacted by offending.”

The Department’s women’s strategy, Wahine e rere ana kit e pae hou PDF, 1.5 MB was launched in 2017 in recognition of the increasing number of women managed by Corrections and their unique needs. The strategy has led to initiatives such as the trauma-informed treatment programme Te Ira Wahine being delivered at the prison.

The programme is specifically designed to meet the alcohol and other drug treatment needs of women in prison. It is trauma-informed and delivered by kaupapa Māori providers in a high security unit at the prison. It is delivered alongside other programmes including Kowhiritanga, a group-based rehabilitation programme that targets the attitudes and behaviours that contributed to participants offending and teaches skills and new ways of thinking, and Kimihia which is a women’s violence prevention programme with a history of persistent violent behaviour.

Work is also ongoing to look at reintegration pathways for women with gang affiliations to help women to contribute to breaking the cycle of future gang prospects and possible membership of their children and whānau.

Read the full response from Corrections National Commissioner Rachel Leota PDF, 2.3 MB to the ARWCF Inspection report.

View ARWCF follow-up inspection report on Inspectorate website.