Corrections News May-Jun 2009
Chief Executive's comment
I have been in discussions with the State Services Commission recently over establishing a Deputy Chief Executive position.
There is a shared concern that the Department faces a number of significant operational and administrative risks over the next twelve months. There are high community and Government expectations in managing all these risks whilst undergoing a Value for Money Review and it’s resulting implementation.
The role is intended to support me as I take the Department forward, adding to our effectiveness, and strengthening our management capability. I welcome Ms Sandi Beatie, who is the Deputy Chief Executive at the Ministry of Justice, to 12 months secondment in the new role. Sandi will be starting on 6 July 2009, and the position will be reviewed at the end of the 12 months. I look forward to the contribution that Sandi can make to the Department.
The initial information-gathering for the Value for Money Review has been conducted and I am again struck by the passionate desire of the majority of our staff to do an excellent job and really make a difference for the safety of our communities.
The next step is for the review team to further examine the key issues and themes that have been identified, taking into account the results of the staff survey and further interviews.
I welcome the additional funding now available which was announced recently by the Government. This will allow us to move forward with crucial planning and design decisions about how we are to manage the forecast increase in prisoner numbers.
The additional funding will mean we are in a stronger position to actualise other options for solving the bed shortage. We will also be working to make more rehabilitative programmes available for prisoners, notably by providing more places at our Drug Treatment Units.
The Expert Panel to oversee improvements into the management of offenders on community sentences and orders had its first meeting at the end of April.
The Panel members have made numerous site visits to meet staff and gain a fuller understanding of the situation.
While I acknowledge that the Panel is still in the initial stages of its review, I am heartened by Panel Chair Paula Rebstock’s comments that Community Probation & Psychological Services staff have already made many positive changes and are committed to making further improvements.
News in brief
Corrections has signed a contract with Cream Media to develop a television series on working dogs in New Zealand. The series will feature drug dog handlers as well as handlers from Police, Customs, MAF and other government agencies. The series will be similar to Border Patrol, and twelve episodes will be produced. Filming will start later in the year at various prisons around the country.
Five new trades
Since June 2008 Corrections Inmate Employment (CIE) has introduced five new Trade and Technical Training courses to prisons. In addition to all the other NZQA courses and work-based training available
to them, prisoners can also learn:
- Small engine maintenance, painting and decorating, and carpentry (with WELTEC at Rimutaka Prison)
- Carpentry (with UCOL at Manawatu Prison)
- Small engine maintenance (with UCOL at Wanganui Prison).
Corrections’ front-line maintained
Frontline Corrections jobs have been exempted from the cap on public sector staff recently announced by the Government. Instead, given that offender numbers are forecast to grow, there is likely to be an increase in the number of front-line staff in both Community Probation and Psychological Services and Prison Services.
Prisoners training through Corrections Inmate Employment (CIE) have already earned more NZQA credits in the eight months from July 2008 to February 2009 than they did in the previous 12 months. In the July 2008 to February 2009 eight-month period they earned 37,959 credits. In the whole 2007/2008 financial year, they got 37,563 credits.
Recent items of contraband caught at our prison gates:
At Auckland Prison, a drug dog indicated a courier package containing a pair of sandals with 4.2 grams of methamphetamine crammed in the heels. Criminals often use shoes to try to smuggle drugs into prisons (as shown in the photo).
At Waikeria Prison’s receiving office, Ted the drug dog strongly indicated that there were drugs present in a book. An initial search didn’t reveal anything, but Dog Handler Maurice O’Connor trusted Ted’s keen nose and decided to dismantle the book. He found drugs concealed within the book’s binding; a very professional-looking job.
Design work underway to increase prison capacity
Corrections has started detailed design and planning work after the Government announced additional funding for the Department to develop options to accommodate a rising prison population.
Prison Capacity Development Programme Director Catherine Hall says Corrections needs to start planning now because both remand and sentenced prisoner numbers are forecast to grow rapidly from next year – particularly in the upper North Island.
“The prison system currently has 9,131 beds. On the current prison population forecast these beds will be exhausted by next year and by 2018 the prison system will be required to accommodate around 12,500 prisoners,” says Catherine.
“The funding announced by the Government will allow us to undertake detailed design and planning work for additional beds at different sites in the upper North Island. This work will put the Government in a position to decide which options should be progressed in future budget rounds.”
Catherine says in these very tight economic times, Corrections is also radically rethinking prison design so any future construction will be safe, secure and humane while also providing the taxpayer value for money.
“As part of the design work, we will be investigating the use of standardised modular construction and portable type accommodation, both of which will be more cost effective and could potentially lead to quicker construction than in the past,” says Catherine.
Apart from the design work to build new prison accommodation, Corrections is also negotiating with unions to implement increased double bunking at the four newest prisons.
“If implemented, double bunking will add approximately 900 beds to the prison system next year and this will address the immediate need for beds. Funding has been provided in Budget 2009 that will allow necessary infrastructure changes to be made so that these sites are able to accommodate an increased number of prisoners.”
Catherine says that a significant amount of work is required over the coming years if the Department is going to be able to accommodate rising prisoner numbers.
“The planning work that is now being undertaken will focus on ensuring that any future investment in prison capacity will cost-effectively deliver secure prison accommodate where it is needed.”
Run sheep run!
“The whole town just goes crazy,” says Senior Community Work Supervisor Gay Waretini, speaking of the yearly Te Kuiti sheep muster in which around 2,000 sheep are herded through the town.
Offenders serving community work sentences helped to ensure all ran smoothly on the big day on Saturday 4 April.
Alongside other community members, the offenders form a line and hold up weed matting to stop the sheep from breaking loose from the barriers.
Gay says the offenders also help to transform the town before the muster day.
“It’s very festive with music and food stalls. The shops get renamed with names like ‘Musterpoint’ and the offenders help move all the signs to the designated shops.”
Private management of prisons to become law
Legislation to allow private companies to manage prisons has been introduced to Parliament.
The Corrections (Contract Management of Prisons) Amendment Bill will allow private companies to tender for prison management contracts on a ‘case-by-case’ basis.
The Bill amends the Corrections Act 2004, and should be read alongside the purpose and principles set out by the Act.
Offenders will remain in the legal custody of the Chief Executive at all times and he is ultimately accountable for everything that happens to prisoners during their incarceration. Public safety and safe, secure and humane containment must remain the paramount considerations in all decisions about offender management.
Key features of the Bill include:
- Contractors must comply with a number of statutory requirements governing the provision of programmes to prisoners, compliance with New Zealand’s international human rights obligations and comprehensive reporting requirements.
- The Bill protects the Government Superannuation Fund entitlements of staff who transfer their employment to a contract prison manager.
- The Bill creates the role of prison monitors who are resident at the contract prison and oversee its compliance with the terms of the contract. Monitors must have unlimited access to all prisoners, all parts of the prison and all staff at all times in order to undertake their role.
Prisons run by contract managers will need to abide by the Corrections Act and the other laws of New Zealand, including the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
Prison inspectors will still have the same powers to visit privately run prisons, and prison officers must comply with the same strict guidelines applied in publicly managed prisons if they have to search or physically restrain a prisoner.
The Bill is expected to become law later in the year. A number of implementation decisions including which prison to put up for tender have yet to be made.
Update: Improving our management of parole
Since the release of the Auditor-General’s report into parole management, Corrections is continuing its focus on improving compliance with procedures.
In the last issue of Corrections News we reported on the work we’re doing to put the Community Probation & Psychological Services Plan to Improve Compliance with Procedures for Managing Parole Orders into action.
Community Probation & Psychological Services (CPPS) General Manager Katrina Casey says we’re continuing our focus on improving compliance, with several areas of work reaching implementation.
“We’re piloting new summary tables of key sentence or order requirements that clearly lay out the actions probation officers have to take and the timeframes they have to adhere to,” she says.
Katrina says that now we are responsible for managing nine different sentences and orders, the requirements for these sentences can be very complex.
“Especially if they have a mixed caseload, it’s not easy for probation officers to quickly pinpoint when they need to have done a certain task,” she says.
Initial feedback suggests probation officers find the new requirements tables useful. They have also given good feedback about what needs to be included.
Also being tested is a new way for probation officers to assess the risk posed by a violent offender every time they report.
The Dynamic Risk Assessment for Offender Re-entry tool assesses changes in an offender’s circumstances that can mean their risk of committing another crime has increased.
The tool helps to highlight if the probation officer should intervene or take other action. The testing is being managed by National Research Adviser Dr Nick Wilson and is operating in Christchurch. An analysis and evaluation of the tool will be done later in the year.
We are also well underway with the implementation of a new way for probation officers to electronically access their operations manuals.
Katrina says the current operations manuals are difficult to navigate and are not formatted in a way that makes best use of the technology now available.
“We’ve approved a new on-line format for the operations manuals which will significantly improve navigation. A senior probation officer has been seconded to begin putting the manual content into the new format.
“Staff will get the opportunity to test the new on-line manuals as they’re being produced,” she says.
In other work, we are well on the way with the follow up review of the 554 high risk parolees we reviewed in August/September 2008. The second review is to ensure all the actions we deemed necessary have been taken and to assess how well probation officers are now following procedures.
Carving out a new partnership
Auckland Prison’s peer-tutored carving school has been working hard in recent months on a waharoa – or gateway – for the new Albany Junior High School.
The waharoa was handed to the school in a small ceremony at Auckland Prison on March 2, and then unveiled at its new home on March 27 in a ceremony attended by Prime Minister John Key.
The waharoa depicts the story of Tane’s journey to heaven to bring back the three kete (baskets) of knowledge. The kereru that surmounts the arch was the messenger sent to tell Tane the kete were ready.
The carving class is now working with the school on an agreement to provide many more carvings for the new campus.
Activities such as carving classes enable prisoners to make good use of their time, learn job-related skills, and give something back to the community in the form of their finished works.
Focus on ... public safety
Corrections’ whole reason for being is to improve public safety; to make sure offenders serve their sentences and reduce re-offending.
In this article we highlight just a few of the public safety measures we are taking in three of our main areas of work: prisons, Special Treatment Units and managing offenders in the community.
Prisons – safe, secure and humane
Prison Services run 20 prisons throughout the country, housing around 8,000 prisoners at any one time. Corrections officers work closely with prisoners, encouraging them to develop offence-free ways of behaving such as solving problems in non-violent ways.
Containment is one of the most important ways in which Prison Services keep the public safe. Escapes do occur, but these are relatively rare, and escape rates have fallen by 86 per cent over the last ten years. This is partly due to improved physical security, such as single points of entry and additional fencing, and partly due to the vigilance of our corrections officers and prison intelligence teams.
Our escape rates have remained fairly constant over the last five years and in the 2007/2008 financial year were around 0.3 per cent per 100 prisoners. This is quite low when compared with similar overseas countries such as England (around 1.0 escapes per 100 prisoners) and Scotland (around 0.7 escapes per 100 prisoners).
We are constantly developing new ways of preventing crimes from being carried out from behind bars. We are introducing cellphone blocking and jamming so that prisoners can not make unauthorised calls, and the recently passed Corrections Amendment Act (No 2) gives us the ability to read prisoners’ mail to ensure they are not planning crimes or sending threatening letters.
But modern prisons are not just about locking people up. Prison Services, working closely with Corrections Inmate Employment (CIE), offer prisoners education, training and work skills that will enable them to gain meaningful employment on release. We do this in the interests of public safety, since research shows that prisoners who find work when they’re released are less likely to re-offend. At June 2008 just over half of all prisoners had jobs or were participating in some form of employment-related activity such as training for a job.
Special treatment units – changing offenders’ beliefs and actions
As well as education opportunities and job training, Corrections makes special rehabilitation programmes available for certain groups of prisoners.
These programmes are designed to motivate prisoners and teach skills to change their thoughts, beliefs and actions so that they can live a crime-free life.
- International research shows that rehabilitation programmes work best when they are targeted to specific groups of prisoners. Corrections will have six special treatment units around the country by the end of the year:
- Two for child sex offenders (Kia Marama and Te Piriti)
- Two for serious repeat offenders (with a third due to open later this year)
- One violence prevention unit.
Internationally, rehabilitation programmes are considered successful if they lead to a reduction in crime of about ten per cent. The programmes we run at our special treatment units achieve comparable success rates, meaning that fewer people will be victims of the offenders who complete these programmes. Some of our units are significantly more successful. Research done in 2003 shows that only four per cent of child sex offenders who have been treated at Kia Marama Special Treatment Unit had re-offended sexually against children.
Corrections also develops new programmes for prisoners, with the goal of increased public safety always in mind. For example, following a successful pilot programme aimed at treating high-risk rape offenders in Auckland, we are now phasing the programme into the special treatment units around the country. The programme is underway at Karaka Special Treatment Unit at Waikeria Prison and is due to be run at the other units until we are treating 30 offenders a year.
As well as our special treatment units, we also have thirteen special focus units, providing therapeutic communities of different types:
- Six drug treatment units
- Five Maori focus units
- One Pacific Island focus unit
- One faith-based unit.
Back into the community…
Community Probation & Psychological Services (CPPS) manages offenders serving sentences and orders in the community. By ensuring offenders comply with their sentences and orders – and face the consequences if they do not – CPPS can reduce the risk of further offending and help offenders make a positive contribution to society.
Sentences and orders imposed by the Courts or Parole Board have particular aims such as reparation to the community, punishment by a restriction of liberty and rehabilitation.
CPPS provides information about offenders to the Courts before sentencing so that each offender receives the ‘right’ sentence for the offence they have committed. That is, a sentence that protects the public while also addressing the offending.
Some offenders require more intervention than others to address their offending. They may be required to complete specific rehabilitation programmes and meet more frequently with their probation officer than people convicted of less serious offending or who pose less risk.
As well as managing offenders who receive sentences to be served in the community, CPPS manages offenders who have been released from prison on conditions and on parole.
Release on parole is available to offenders sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment to allow for release into the community under the supervision of a probation officer before their sentence ends. Release on parole is a privilege, not a right.
If the Parole Board believes the offender poses too great a risk to the public, it will decline parole.
Before a prisoner is released on parole, probation officers work closely with prison reintegration teams and other agencies, such as Work and Income, to ensure that the prisoner has a plan to help them adjust to life in the community and to manage their risk of re-offending.
While an offender is on parole they are required to report regularly to their probation officer, undergo home visits, and attend programmes as directed, which may include violence prevention or alcohol and other drug treatment programmes.
If the offender fails to comply with any of the imposed conditions, or re-offends, they may be recalled to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.
Integrated approach helps troubled families
The situation: Corrections has custody of an offender who is a senior gang member. The offender’s family live in a house so dilapidated that his partner must carry a bedside lamp from room to room to get light.
The kitchen is burnt out and she cooks using an extension cord from the garage to an electric frying pan. Windows are broken. Their children, a new-born baby and an eleven-year-old son live with her. The young son is about to be expelled from school for bullying.
This same woman receives regular beatings, and escapes from time to time to the local Women’s Refuge. She and the children live on a benefit.
A tragic, and, to Corrections staff and others working with offenders and troubled families, a familiar story.
But this story, and many like it, can have more successful outcomes thanks to the more integrated ways of working facilitated by the reintegration team at the Northland Region Corrections Facility (NRCF).
Two years ago, a meeting about an offender like the one above illustrated that closer collaboration between multiple organisations was needed. The offender and his family were dealing with the Child, Youth and Family Service, the local school board, Work and Income, Police and Corrections – to name a few.
Corrections staff saw that a collaborative approach could not only improve the situation for this family, but could improve public safety overall, and help the different agencies involved by making information sharing easier.
“It became quite apparent soon after NRCF was established that some Government departments in Northland, at times, shared the same clients as the reintegration team at the prison,” says NRCF Whanau Liaison Worker Bill Martin.
“This particular case helped us to recognise that a lot more could be achieved through a collaborative approach.
“Now, monthly interagency meetings centred around offenders at NRCF are held throughout Northland. These meetings attract representatives from 25 agencies working around Northland. Working together has many benefits for all the groups concerned. It allows everyone to form a whole picture of the offender, provides for consistent and positive monitoring, prevents duplication and playing one agency off against the other and helps identify issues earlier, leading to more comprehensive outcomes than previously,” says Bill.
“Also, because the reintegration team can arrange for outside agencies to visit offenders, this makes for closer working relationships with community agencies such as Women’s Refuge, and helps strengthen our ties with other Government departments in the area,” he says.
And the story above? One agency went in to fix up the house, which meant the eleven-year-old boy had light to get his schoolwork done in the evenings. This improved his situation at school, and with help from his school, he stopped bullying his classmates. Two community agencies are offering support to the offender’s partner – and at least she now has a decent house to live in. Plunket are keeping in touch with her and her baby. The work with the offender as he moves towards rejoining his family post-release continues…
'Guilty as' but moving forward - prisoners reflect at Puna Tatari
Puna Tatari Special Treatment Unit, based at Spring Hill Corrections Facility, runs a nine-month rehabilitation programme for serious repeat offenders who have a high risk of re-offending. Most of the offenders have a history of violence.
The first group of seven prisoners graduated from the programme in late March.
“Looking back at my life I feel guilty as, but I know I can move forward. I am going to be one of those people making a difference in life,” says one of the graduates.
“In the past I tried to lessen my tension with anger and violence. By using mindfulness [learnt on the programme] it really hit me in the heart: what the hell have I been doing to the people in my life? I felt ashamed,” he says.
Prisoners volunteer to attend Puna Tatari, which provides a ‘community of change’ environment, and gives both group and individual cognitive-behavioural treatment.
The programme aims to reduce re-offending by motivating prisoners to want to change and giving them the skills to do so. Modules covered in the programme include offence mapping, distress tolerance, cognitive restructuring, and te tahu whanau (Maori mental health).
Principal Psychologist Pieter van Rensburg says offenders find the programme supportive, but challenging, especially the ‘offence mapping’ component, which requires them to talk about their offences and the factors that contributed to them.
“We can see the anxiety building when the offence mapping component is due. Some men became verbally challenging, one became more withdrawn, and one came to talk to me about the value of continuing the course,” he says.
“They often ask ‘do I have to talk about my offences?’ and they are required to, but we tell them it’s different from a court case. They are in control of mapping their offence out on paper. They can see the value of it.”
Before entering the unit, Corrections psychologists assess each prisoner to identify in which situations and circumstances the man is most likely to commit a crime. For many prisoners, risky situations involve drugs and alcohol and certain groups of people, such as fellow gang members.
Once these high-risk situations have been identified, prisoners work with psychologists, programme facilitators, a reintegration worker and the rest of the group to change their ways of thinking and behaving.
Pieter says the cognitive restructuring section of the course deals with the distorted beliefs the offenders may have.
“A typical belief would be something like ‘Violence is normal’. We restructure the belief to something acceptable such as ‘I don’t need to use violence in order to be in control’,” he says.
The programme at Puna Tatari (which also operates at Waikeria Prison) will be evaluated as soon as enough men have completed it to give a valid sample size.
The programme is based upon international research which shows that programmes of this type do help offenders stop committing crimes. It is widely accepted that they contribute to at least a 10 per cent reduction in crime – which is viewed as a good result.
Pieter says the programme at Puna Tatari is likely to achieve this kind of result or better.
Puna Tatari – a pool of still waters
When water is running it symbolises life. When water is captured in a pool, it is motionless and in need of purification. A pool of still water also reflects the image of the person looking into it. Men who choose to come to Puna Tatari get the opportunity to reflect.
What’s new in the literature?
By David Riley, Chief Adviser Psychological Services
New Zealand, like other countries such as the United States, is faced with mounting numbers of offenders who are serving prison terms or community-based sentences. Against this gloomy picture, it is noteworthy that re-offending rates for some offences are actually falling.
In a recent paper, Leslie Helmus and colleagues1 discuss the phenomenon of declining rates of sexual re-offending, which appear to have peaked in the early 1990s and have been declining since that time. They note that this downward trend has also been found for other violent offenders and property offenders in Canada and the United States.
The paper draws upon recent studies which have been carried out in North America, Continental Europe, and one New Zealand study. All these pieces of work attest to the declining rates of sexual re-offending which appear to be only two-thirds of the level in the early 1990s.
Declining sexual re-offending rates have been observed for both rapists and sexual offenders against children, and this picture is confirmed
by official criminal statistics and a variety of victimisation studies.
While the causes of this decline are still unclear, several plausible reasons include demographic changes in the population, the possible impact on sex drive of antidepressant medication, rising public awareness and associated vigilance, longer prison sentences and the increasing use of indeterminate sentences, improved management of such offenders following release from prison, and the cumulative effect of sexual offender treatment programmes which have been progressively introduced over the last two decades.
Certainly, in New Zealand, the increase in use of sentences of preventive detention for sexual offenders, a sharper focus on the management of sexual offenders on parole or on extended supervision orders, and the very significant numbers of child sex offenders who have gone through Corrections’ two Special Treatment Units all seem likely to have helped lessen sexual re-offending.
This finding has some implications for us in New Zealand. We will need to take into account the falling rates when we assess an offender’s risk of sexual re-offending and when we evaluate our programmes for sexual offenders. We need to ensure we do not make overly optimistic assessments of the effectiveness of our programmes, or overly pessimistic judgements about an individual’s risk of re-offending.
Footnote: 1 Helmus, L., Hanson, K., & Thornton, D. (2009). Reporting Static-99 in light of new research on recidivism norms. ATSA Forum XXI(1).
Open day strengthens links
Representatives from the Ministry of Social Development, Plunket
and the Child, Youth and Family Service were among those who attended the first Auckland Regional Women’s Correctional Facility (ARWCF) stakeholder open day on 18 March.
The prison opened its doors to interested stakeholders and local businesses to foster closer working relationships.
Corrections Minister Hon Judith Collins and Corrections Chief Executive Barry Matthews both attended, and stressed the importance of prisons and communities working together to aid in the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners.
The event included presentations on the services available to prisoners, such as Corrections Inmate Employment and health services. Guests were also given a tour of the site, and the day ended with performances from prisoner cultural groups and the ARWCF staff Pacific Island Network.
Since becoming Minister of Corrections, I have had the pleasure of meeting many Corrections staff, and talking to them about how Corrections plays an important role in ensuring public safety.
Each day, Corrections staff manage some of the country’s most difficult and dangerous people. I believe that keeping the public safe is one of the most important jobs in New Zealand.
But it is just as important that Corrections staff keep themselves safe while carrying out their duties.
Few things cause me greater concern than the safety and wellbeing of those who work in our prisons or those managing offenders in the community. For a Minister, there can be no worse news than that a staff member has been attacked or hurt.
There will always be an element of risk in working with offenders, but there are many things that can be done to minimise that risk.
It is a priority of the Government to ensure that Corrections staff are as safe as they can possibly be. That means making sure staff are properly resourced, properly trained and that there are enough staff on deck to prevent emergencies and to deal with them quickly and safely when they occur.
The Government must also ensure that laws are in place that allow Corrections staff to find and confiscate any contraband that might be used as a weapon or create disruption and disorder within prisons. An example of this is the recent passing of the Corrections Amendment Act which has introduced new measures to tackle contraband entering prisons, making prisons safer for all.
I have been impressed by the Staff Safety Project in Prison Services. That project has seen staff, unions and managers work together to identify ways to improve safety, including possible improvements in personal protective equipment provided to staff and mechanisms to respond more effectively to serious incidents. I am looking forward to receiving the recommendations from that project.
It is not just staff in prisons who need to also be prepared for unpredictable or dangerous situations.
In the near future Community Probation & Psychological Services staff across the country will undertake training in how to respond to incidents that could occur in service centres.
The majority of frontline staff at the centres will have already completed training in managing threatening situations, and have an understanding of de-escalation techniques and removing themselves from potentially dangerous circumstances safely.
It is intended that this training will further add to their knowledge. I hope it is training that they will not need to call on often… or ever.
Improving safety should be an ongoing process. Often the best ideas for improving safety come from those who are at the frontline. I encourage staff at all levels to think about how their jobs can be improved and feel confident to raise their ideas with their managers.
I will also be talking to the Chief Executive about ways to improve safety, and receiving regular updates on initiatives already under way. Practical ideas that make working in the corrections system safer for everyone will have my full support.
Hon Judith Collins
Minister of Corrections
Nursing down memory lane
This year Corrections celebrates the golden anniversary of nursing in prisons, honouring the vital work nurses have done for the past 50 years.
The nurses in our prisons today are skilled healthcare professionals, often with a wealth of experience behind them.
“I have experience in medical, surgical, oncology, mental health and in the community as a Tamariki Ora and as a Community Health Nurse,” explains Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility Health Centre Manager Virginia Dyall-Kalidas.
This level of professionalism is a far cry from early days in New Zealand’s prisons. In the 1800s, prisoners’ health needs were in the hands of colonial surgeons and prison medical officers; basic nursing duties were often the responsibility of the head gaoler’s wife.
A colonial surgeon was often untrained, his only qualification being that he had access to sharp tools. A medical officer (generally the local doctor) visited the prisons and made recommendations about treatment, but custodial staff – or their wives – did the day-to-day nursing.
In 1957 Dr W H B Bull was appointed as the first director of Prison Medical Services. He made recommendations to recruit nurses, but questioned the wisdom of having women in an all male environment.
This led to male medical personnel from the armed forces being employed by prisons, and because they were accustomed to dealing with men, they also had a custodial component to their duties.
The first woman became part of the prison healthcare workforce in 1960. Gradually, more and more women were employed as nurses in prisons, and while it wasn’t until the 80s that the custodial component of their jobs was officially removed, women weren’t expected to fulfil this role.
In the mid 70s nursing in prisons underwent changes and core nursing tasks were identified. There were further changes from 2000 to 2002 and these led to our current prison health services, in which prisoners must receive healthcare of an equal standard to that they could receive in the community.
“While I’ve always acted professionally in my nursing duties, these days nurses constantly need to up-skill,” says Sue McDonald, who recently retired from nursing after 23 years service with Corrections.
“When I first started I was working in isolation and we just had to get on with it. These days there’s the distinct recognition that nurses shouldn’t be working like that.”
The last 50 years has seen the evolution of health services in prisons go from unskilled colonial surgeons to professional, skilled and committed health staff who are aligned in every way to the primary health sector.
As our kaupapa says: Kotahi ano te kaupapa: ko te orange o te iwi – there is only one purpose (to our work): it is the wellness and the well-being of the people.