A statement from Neil Beales, Chief Custodial Officer

Corrections acknowledges the release of the report by the Office of the Inspectorate examining the use of separation and isolation of people in prison and has accepted all seven recommendations made.

We recognise the challenges involved in segregating prisoners and the impact on those who are segregated, and we are committed to ensuring we are targeting our efforts at those areas where we are at greatest risk of creating harm to those we choose to separate.

Work has already commenced on a long term, system wide plan for enduring change that recognises the potential risks that prolonged isolation can have on people. Our Chief Adviser System Transformation will ensure that this work is undertaken collaboratively across Corrections and with the Office of the Inspectorate. Our Prison Directors have also committed to making short term improvements and long term gains.

Over the next six months we will:

  • Develop an interim assurance system for directed segregation orders
  • Explore the adaptation of a dashboard to incorporate reporting on directed segregation orders
  • Implement an interim escalation system
  • Provide targeted support to custodial systems managers.

As stated in the report, removing a prisoner from the mainstream prison population and using segregation is a legitimate tool of prison management. However, the Chief Inspector is right to conclude that the administration of segregation, including recordkeeping and reporting and the existence of a robust assurance framework, alongside clinical involvement in how segregated and at risk prisoners are managed are areas which we must address.

Inspectors visited the 18 prisons between January to June 2022, and used data collected for the period 1 October 2020 - 30 September 2021. The report captures the period of time that New Zealand prisons were most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and throughout a staged transition to usual operation. From March 2020 we put in place extensive plans to manage the risk presented by COVID-19 and as a result avoided the death of many prisoners which was experienced in prisons internationally.

We do not underestimate the serious impact that segregation can have on the wellbeing of people in prison and their families, which was exacerbated during COVID-19. While the choices we make have a significant impact on people in prison, every decision is made to prioritise their safety and wellbeing.

The report also recognises the ongoing staffing challenges being faced by our prisons. Like many organisations and businesses around the country, we have been facing on-going challenges related to our staffing levels. We fully acknowledge the impact of this pressure, which is why we have been making a concerted effort to recruit, retain and train new staff. We have seen a strong increase in the number of job applications received for new Corrections Officers, with over 5,100 applications received since October 2022. During this time we have had over 480 people recruited into frontline roles, with many more in the recruitment pipeline.

Our staff do an incredibly difficult job with respect and dedication. They are responsible for working with some of the most challenging people in society and they take appropriate and necessary steps to preserve the safety and lives of these prisoners. They have obligations to public safety, the safety of their colleagues and the welfare of prisoners that can at times lead to very difficult choices with very limited options. However it is right that we take the time now to recognise that we can, and should, always strive to do better.

The Office of the Inspectorate’s Separation and Isolation report is available on the Inspectorate’s website.