Please attribute to Neil Beales, Deputy Commissioner:

Corrections acknowledges the release of the independent Inspectorate’s ‘Special Investigation - Report into the provision of minimum entitlements and the operating regime in units 11, 12 and 13 at Auckland Prison’, conducted between 1 October 2022 and 30 April 2023.

The Inspectorate made three overarching recommendations following the inspection, all of which have been accepted in full by Corrections. This will ensure ongoing monitoring and assurances that minimum entitlements are being delivered in these units. Every decision we make is about keeping our prisons safe, but we are committed to learning from this investigation. We have made a number of changes to our operations in the maximum security units at Auckland Prison as a result, including:

  • implementing regular prisoner surveys to seek feedback from prisoners about how they feel things are going in their unit, covering areas such as bedding, and access to cleaning items and phones. We review the feedback and respond to any person where we may be able to address any immediate needs. We also collate the feedback so we can review trends.
  • introducing a prisoner newsletter to keep the men updated and informed of the changes and progress we have been making in response to their concerns raised in the survey.
  • ordering all new bedding and clothing (including two of t-shirts, trackpants, shorts, sweat tops each) across the prison to ensure everyone has the required items. We now have a robust process in place to return bedding and kit as prisoners leave the unit.
  • working with our health team to prioritise health appointments across the board. If there are any issues with access, the Health team now escalate directly to the Deputy General Manager in real time.
  • purchasing trolleys for units 10-13 that are used to distribute in-cell cleaning supplies. We ensure that it remains well stocked and is regularly offered.
  • setting up an auditing schedule to provide assurances on areas such as health, safety, and the environment, security and incidents, performance and inspections; and people, performance and capability.

The Inspectorate’s investigation was conducted in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic which brought many challenges for Corrections. We were continuously required to make urgent changes to our standard operations, which unfortunately included pausing and restricting a number of prisoner programmes and activities. As has been widely reported, Corrections also faced frontline staffing pressures during this time. Due to the particular impact of these challenges at Auckland Prison, our Chief Executive asked the Inspectorate to visit these units and report back.

Auckland Prison is New Zealand’s only maximum security prison and the prisoners housed in these units in particular are some of New Zealand’s most dangerous and difficult to manage people. Maximum security prisoners have a high propensity for violence and are known to behave unpredictably and act without warning, which means a higher number of staff with more experience are required to carry out daily operations in these units. Each day, prior to any unlock or movement of prisoners, staff must assess and manage a range of operational requirements and risks. This includes which prisoners can be unlocked together, whether they are segregated or in the mainstream population, whether there is a risk of them associating with co-offenders, how many staff are required to supervise per prisoner, and whether there are any gang tensions that may pose a risk to the safety of staff and other prisoners, as well as the security of the prison. When managing prisoners in maximum security units, these considerations are heightened, with some of these prisoners requiring up to five staff each to ensure everyone’s safety while they are unlocked.

The safety of staff and prisoners must be our top priority and given the serious violent incidents that occur in these units, including damage to property and an attack that tragically resulted in the death of another prisoner, we cannot afford to take any risks. Undertaking this high-risk work within the context of staffing pressures has been exceptionally difficult for our frontline staff. The operating environment and the challenges we’ve experienced in recent years have been unprecedented, and this has required Corrections to make some very tough decisions about what activities could and could not be safely carried out. Every decision we’ve made has been about making sure Auckland Prison operates safely and securely.

Our staff have worked hard to protect and support prisoners’ wellbeing as much as possible, but we acknowledge there were times that they were not able to unlock every prisoner every day at Auckland Prison. We fully acknowledge this has had a significant impact on the men in these units. We are considering all options available to provide redress for those people affected by the provision, or lack of, minimum entitlements at Auckland Prison during the Inspectorate’s review period. We will also assess on a case-by-case basis any complaints that are submitted regarding individual circumstances that have arisen during this review period at Auckland Prison.

While several factors impacted our ability to unlock prisoners every day during this time, it is clear staffing levels were a significant issue. In response to these challenges, we stood up a National Coordination Centre (NCC) to gain a nationwide view of the pressures. The NCC coordinated the immediate responses required to urgently alleviate pressures on staff and sites. While the NCC has since closed, work is continuing to ensure staffing levels across our entire prison estate remain closely monitored.

Corrections has been and continues to make a concerted effort to recruit, retain and train frontline custodial staff. This includes launching our recruitment campaign, strengthening recruitment processes, improving onboarding processes, implementing new rosters which provide staff with better work/life balance and help them to avoid fatigue, and continuously working to improve staff safety. We have seen a strong increase in the number of job applications received for new Corrections Officers. As at 18 March 2024, we had received 26,794 applications since 1 October 2022, with 1,356 recruited into Corrections Officer roles.

Since the investigation we have developed a minimum entitlements database as an assurance mechanism, and an improved process for when a declaration of a prison emergency is made, which includes explicitly considering the ability to continue offering minimum entitlements.

We acknowledge there is still some work to do to resume visits in the maximum security units at Auckland Prison. As staffing levels have increased at the prison, we have reintroduced visits in all units except maximum security following careful planning and consultation. A resumption of visits proposal for these units is currently at consultation stage with local union delegates. We appreciate this is very difficult for prisoners and their families, however, it is critical that we get this right to keep staff, prisoners, and visitors safe.

While some of the identified issues within this report were events specific to Auckland Prison, the lessons learnt are being taken into account nationally. The Chief Custodial Officer will lead work in this area to identify key areas where we need to make changes.

Corrections is committed to ensuring minimum entitlements are met and peoples’ rights are upheld, and we will continue our work to be better prepared for managing exceptional challenges in the future.