Corrections acknowledges the release of the Ombudsman’s report of the unannounced OPCAT (Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture) inspection of Northland Region Corrections Facility (NRCF) in February 2019.
Out of the 31 recommendations made from the inspection, Corrections has accepted 28 recommendations in full and partially accepted a further two. Work has been completed or commenced in relation to all of the accepted recommendations since the time of the inspection.
The recommendation that prisoners have unrestricted access to toilets at all times was rejected due to the need to maintain the safety and security of the prison by preventing prisoners from congregating in unsupervised areas without CCTV coverage.
Corrections Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales wanted to make it clear that no prisoners are denied access to toilet facilities at the prison should they need them.
“The safety of the prisoners we accommodate and the staff working in our prisons is paramount,” said Mr Beales.
“Locking cell doors while prisoners are spending time in the yard or taking part in programmes is considered necessary to prevent prisoners from congregating in unmonitored areas. This helps to ensure the safe and secure running of the prison and reduces unacceptable prisoner behaviour including intimidation and assaults.”
“If a prisoner was in the unit and wanting to access a toilet, their cell would be unlocked for them to use. If the prisoner was in the yard, they would use the toilet in the yard, unless they requested to be returned to the unit to use the toilet in their cell.”
“Our staff work hard to facilitate these requests as quickly as possible while ensuring the safety and security of other prisoners and staff in the unit is upheld at all times.”
This inspection was undertaken in February this year when temperatures throughout New Zealand were the highest on record in many places.
“We have heat mitigation plans that are used at times such as this, including allowing prisoners access to cold towels, cold showers throughout the day and more time outside their cells keeping in mind the safety and security of the prison, the prisoners and staff,” said Mr Beales.
The Ombudsman also discussed the processes and practices around the development of a kaupapa Māori culture, and the relationship between the prison and iwi.
”NRCF is actively working to re-establish relationships with iwi, with regular meetings taking place since November 2018. Prisoners are being supported to determine their iwi, hapu and marae where not known. A range of cultural programmes are delivered throughout the year, including Tikanga and Mauri Tu Pae, and whakairo (carving) workshops also take place,” said Mr Beales.
In May, the Corrections Minister announced a $98 million investment in a whānau-centred Māori pathway initiative at Northland Region Corrections Facility and Hawkes Bay Regional Prison. The pathway will be co-designed and implemented by Māori, with Corrections, the Ministry of Social Development and Te Puni Kōkiri all working in partnership with hapū and iwi. The approach will enable people in prison to experience a kaupapa Māori-centred approach right from remand through to reintegration.
On Monday of this week, the Minister also announced Hōkai Rangi, the department’s strategy to address the long-term challenge of Māori reoffending and imprisonment. It was developed with a reference group of experts, including Māori with experience of the Corrections system, both in custody and in the community. Hōkai Rangi builds on the good things that are already happening, and innovates to find alternative ways of doing things that achieve better outcomes with Māori and their whānau, hapū, and iwi.
“Hōkai Rangi signals a significant shift in the way we work with Māori we are able to focus our efforts. This is aligns with the Government’s objectives; to improve public safety, better support for victims of crime, meet our obligations to Māori, and build public confidence in the system,” said Mr Beales.
The Ombudsman also makes a number of positive comments about the running of the prison in the report, including:
- Health Services were good, including the addition of the mental health in-reach clinician
- Accommodation was well maintained and the environment clean
- The partnership work to build an arts programme for prisoners is a positive initiative
- Child centric visits facilitated by the prison represented the importance of family ties
- Inspectors observed generally positive staff and prisoner interactions
- Prisoners were respectful and generally relaxed.
Corrections values the feedback provided in the Ombudsman’s report which is used to improve aspects of the management of prisoners where possible.