To be attributed to Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales:
Corrections acknowledges the Ombudsman’s independent assessment of Christchurch Men’s Prison and follow up inspections of Manawatu, Arohata and Rolleston prisons under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
The Ombudsman has responsibility under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 (COTA) for examining and monitoring the general conditions and treatment of detainees in New Zealand prisons.
Christchurch Men’s Prison
From 3 April to 12 April 2017, Inspectors from the Ombudsman’s Office carried out an unannounced inspection at Christchurch Men’s Prison.
Since the inspection, Corrections has made a significant number of changes which are addressing the Ombudsman’s recommendations. These include:
- Completing a national review of At Risk Units (ARUs);
- Investing $11.6 million over the next four years to develop a new ‘whole of prison’ model for care of at-risk prisoners, to be piloted at three sites including Christchurch Men’s Prison;
- Progressing work to build a new ARU at Christchurch Men’s Prison;
- Establishing a National Working Group to consider the use of CCTV and prisoner privacy in cells in the ARU;
- Establishing a major programme to review shift regimes which will address the recommendations regarding meal times.
The Prison Director at the time of the inspection has been stood down pending an investigation into unrelated matters and been replaced by an Acting Prison Director.
The safety and security of prisoners and staff is paramount, and the Ombudsman’s report will further improve aspects of the management of the prison.
OPCAT Inspectors made a number of positive findings, including staff actively engaging with prisoners and good procedures for receiving prisoners, accessing telephones and processing visitor approvals. A number of prisoners also reported that they felt treated with respect and had a staff member they could turn to for help.
Corrections does not accept all of the recommendations contained in the report. Those that were accepted are completed or in progress.
Management of at risk prisoners
Corrections is committed to ensuring our ARUs meet appropriate standards and that staff and prisoners in these units are safe and supported.
A national review of ARUs was completed in September 2017, and a number of steps have since been taken at a national level.
The addition of a Principal Corrections Officer over weekends at Christchurch Men’s Prison means we now have enhanced coverage that better supports the delivery of services and decision making, and a more prisoner-centric approach, with multi-disciplinary teams developing tailored individual management plans for prisoners.
Training for key staff in ARUs is also planned for early 2018. This will cover assurance tools and support best practice and effective decision making.
Corrections accepts that a number of use of force incidents have taken place in the Christchurch Men’s Prison ARU.
In recent months, the use of force in the ARU has significantly reduced. Any use of force that now occurs in the ARU is fully reviewed by the Prison’s Safer Custody Panel.
Staff are briefed at daily briefings about the use of On Body Cameras and how to respond to threatening situations. This includes reinforcing the use of de-escalation techniques.
Work is taking place to build a new ARU, and we have invested $11.6 million over the next four years to develop a new ‘whole of prison’ model for care of at-risk prisoners, to be piloted at three sites including Christchurch Men’s Prison.
A Principal Corrections Officers forum has been set up in the Southern Region and meets on a regular basis to discuss practice related issues and identify improved ways of working with prisoners in the ARU.
This work is in addition to our Investing in Better Mental Health for Offenders strategy, which includes a $14 million investment to pilot new mental health services so we can better address the mental health needs of prisoners and community-based offenders.
Corrections takes prisoner dignity and privacy seriously, and all possible steps are taken to ensure that privacy is maintained where possible and appropriate.
Our paramount concern is to manage prisoners in a safe environment. Cameras are used in accordance with the Corrections Act 2004 and Corrections Regulations 2005, which state that sentences must be administered in a “safe, secure, humane, and effective manner.”
Concerns about privacy in safe cells must be secondary to the risk posed to a prisoner’s life. The ability of staff to remotely observe prisoners in safe cells has meant that on numerous occasions they have prevented a potential prisoner suicide or self harming incident.
However, Corrections has established a National Working Group, which includes representatives from the Office of the Ombudsman, to consider the use of CCTV and prisoner privacy in cells in the ARU. The Group is currently seeking further information before making final recommendations.
Subject to the operational needs and resources available at the prison, Corrections agrees that serving lunch at any time between midday and 1.30pm and dinner at any time between 5pm and 7pm should be an objective.
Christchurch Men's Prison has made changes to the serving of meals. In high security units the earliest meal serving occurs at 4.15pm, and the site is trialling bulk serving of meals in the low security unit dining rooms. Dinner is now commonly served at approximately 6pm.
We have work underway to review the shift regimes in the custodial environment in order to further align meal times more closely with the hours suggested. A major project concerned with shift patterns is underway which requires significant consultation with a number of parties, as well as technology upgrades. Current timelines indicate that this project will be complete by the end of 2018.The Ombudsman was briefed on this work at the recent quarterly relationship meeting.
However, we maintain that the current meal times comply with section 72 of the Corrections Act 2004, which stipulates that every prisoner is provided with “a sufficient quantity of wholesome food and drink based on the food and nutritional guidelines for the time being issued by the Ministry of Health.” There is no reference to the times food is served; rather, the focus is on quality and quantity.
The current menus were developed with input from the Ministry of Health, Diabetes Life Education and the Heart Foundation in consultation with a clinical dietician.
Prison entry search procedures
Gatehouse staff provide a valuable service in keeping the Prison safe from contraband and ensuring public and staff safety.
The Ombudsman’s report identified that several female visitors had been taken to a search room and asked to remove their bra to confirm they were not bringing in contraband. This request was unacceptable and has been addressed.
Gatehouse staff now use alternative techniques to prevent female visitors being asked to remove their undergarments.
Corrections is committed to consistently applying best practice to maximise time out of cells. We are always willing to consider improvements to the purposeful activities available and moving towards an increase in unlock hours in a manner that is consistent with prisoner safety.
We take our duty of care towards prisoners seriously and are committed to managing prisoners in a safe, secure, humane and effective manner.
If a prisoner believes their human rights have been breached or has any concerns about their treatment or safety, there are a number of complaints processes they can follow. These include reporting to Prison staff, the Complaints Response Desk, Inspector of Corrections or other external agencies including the Police, Office of the Ombudsman, Health and Disability Commission and Human Rights Commission.
A prisoner safety forum is underway at the Prison so we can better understand prisoners’ experiences of the complaints system.
Follow up inspections
The Ombudsman’s follow up inspections of Manawatu, Rolleston and Arohata prisons took place in April and May of this year. They followed initial inspections in these prisons in 2015 and 2016.
The Ombudsman’s recommendations covered similar themes as the Christchurch report. The follow up reports indicated that issues around meal times, the use of cameras and privacy screens, the decommissioning of separates cells and administrative matters relating to the completion of paperwork for the segregation of prisoners had not been achieved.
Corrections response to the recommendations made is included above. These include the creation of a National Working Group to investigate privacy of prisoners and the use of cameras, as well as a review into the ability to realign the shifts of prison staff to more closely meet the serving time of meals. The matter of the adequacy of B Block at Manawatu Prison to accommodate prisoners is being addressed with a significant capital investment in work to refurbish the block.
We recognise the responsibility that the Ombudsman’s office has into examining and monitoring the general conditions and treatment of people in New Zealand prisons and will continue to work with them on their follow up audits.