Corrections has moved quickly to address the recommendations from the Chief Ombudsman’s follow up inspection of Otago Corrections Facility in January/February 2019, which was done in accordance with the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).
The report relates to an initial inspection carried out in 2016 where a total of 16 recommendations were made. The follow up inspection took place in January/February 2019 with two new recommendations made and seven previous recommendations repeated. Corrections has accepted or partially accepted all nine and work has been completed or commenced in relation to all of them.
Corrections’ Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales said it was pleasing that the Ombudsman noted that the prison’s facilities were well maintained and clean, significant improvements had been made in record keeping, and all prisoners were receiving their minimum entitlement of one hour’s access to fresh air daily.
Mr Beales said there is always more work to do.
“We are committed to ensuring that we operate a prison network that protects the safety of the prisoners, staff and the public. We do this by providing offenders with access to health services and provide them every opportunity for change through participation in rehabilitation, reintegration, 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.”
One of the issues raised in the Ombudsman’s follow up report indicated that staff showed a lack of respect to prisoners.
“We are proud of our frontline staff for the integrity they show and the support they provide to prisoners but we agree that the issues outlined in this report do not meet the standard we expect of our staff. The use of any profane language towards prisoners won’t be tolerated and we will be continuing to make this absolutely clear to all staff,” said Mr Beales.
The report also indicated that the use of pepper spray at OCF was higher than at other sites across the network. Pepper spray was introduced at OCF ahead of some other sites. Mr Beales says that this would contribute to the higher use of pepper spray at OCF compared to other sites.
“Training on the use of pepper spray has reinforced that it’s used as a final option when other interventions with the prisoner have not been effective in de-escalating and resolving a situation without the use of force.”
Another issue raised in the report indicated there were a number of prisoners accommodated at the site from outside the Otago area.
“We manage the prison system as a network and prisoner transfers are a necessity for us. It enables the safe and secure management of a prison by ensuring that prisoners of differing security classification and segregation status are accommodated safely and prisoners are able to access the interventions and support they require to make progress.”
The vast majority of prisoners are returned to a prison in their home region prior to being released, where they are more likely to have support. In 2017/18 a total of 775 prisoners were released from Otago Corrections Facility, with only 28 released to an address in the Otago region, who had been sentenced in a North Island court.
“It’s important for prisoners to maintain contact with friends and family and we aim to ensure this happens through enabling telephone calls and Audio Visual Link (AVL) conferences, as well as helping arrange contact when relatives and friends are visiting from out of town,” said Mr Beales.
Prisoners under the age of 18 are lawfully required to be housed separately from adult prisoners. There are only two dedicated youth units in New Zealand (at Hawkes Bay Regional Prison and Christchurch Men’s Prison).
“There are times when a young person is progressing through the court process, where it’s not logistically feasible to move them between a youth unit and a sentencing court in a timely way. In these cases it can be necessary to hold them temporarily at the site closest to the court for these purposes. When this happens, each site keeps the young person in a safe location, separate from the adult population,” said Mr Beales.
“To make this placement more appropriate for youth prisoners, Otago Corrections Facility has redesigned two of the Intervention and Support Unit (ISU) cells with televisions and has built an additional yard with basketball hoops. The Activities Officers at Otago Corrections Facility also facilitate daily physical exercise sessions with any youth that are on site.”
Youth prisoners are transferred to the Christchurch Men’s Prison Youth Unit at the earliest opportunity. Placements outside of youth units are a last resort for the shortest possible time.
Read the full report into the follow up inspection of Otago Corrections Facility under OPCAT on the Ombudsman's website.