Corrections News Nov-Dec 2010
Chief Executive's comment
As I am retiring at the end of the year, this is my final column for Corrections News.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the many Corrections News readers who have worked alongside me and my staff - whether as volunteers, colleagues or fellow corrections professionals. I have enjoyed working with you, and I acknowledge that as part of the wider community, your support has been invaluable in our mission to improve public safety.
Despite the difficult economic times, I am confident that I am leaving a robust and increasingly innovative Department that is in a strong position to move forward into the next decade. Our recently released Annual Report shows that we have achieved some impressive results, and have exceeded a number of our targets:
Security in our prisons is better than ever, despite prisoner numbers reaching a record high of 8,816 in June 2010. We now have fewer escapes, suicides and incidents of self-harm among prisoners than ever before. Random drug tests show that fewer drugs are getting into our prisons - thanks to the vigilance and good intelligence work of our staff.
We have successfully managed the increasing prisoner numbers with our double bunking project, and the implementation of a new 60-bed unit made from converted shipping containers at Rimutaka Prison.
Community Probation Services have made a real turn-around, achieving increasingly good compliance rates in the management of parole and other community-based sentences and orders notwithstanding increasing volumes across the country.
We continued to progress a number of initiatives to provide more and better rehabilitative opportunities for offenders. A new Drug Treatment Unit has opened at Auckland Prison and we are well on track to increase the number of prisoners able to receive addictions treatment from 500 to 1000 by the end of next year.
We are also making great efforts to rehabilitate prisoners by teaching them skills they can use to find work on release; at the end of July nearly 70 percent of sentenced prisoners were doing some form of work or job training.
Of course there are many areas in which we can improve, but I believe our new culture of continuous improvement and of being open to new ways of working will lead to greater efficiencies and effectiveness over the coming years.
Farewell to you all, and my best wishes for the summer and the upcoming festive season.
Prison smoking ban update
Corrections is preparing prisoners and staff for the impending smoking ban by providing smoking cessation support, including nicotine patches, before the ban begins on 1 July 2011. Helping those who want to give up will be 80 ‘workplace champions’ – prison staff who will be attending a one-day training course run by The Quit Group before the end of the year. We have also surveyed staff about their smoking habits to find out if they need any additional services or have any good ideas about how best to support them in the lead-up to the ban.
Good and evil at Albany District Court
Two prisoner-carved pou (posts) were unveiled at Albany District Court in September. Auckland Prison Programmes Manager Mark Lynds says the pou were donated to the Court by prisoners from the carving workshop at Auckland Prison, and symbolise the choice between good and evil. One pou depicts Rongomatane, the god of peace and cultivation. The other shows Te Whiro Te Tupua, the god of misfortune (or devil) forcing mankind into his net.
North Shore Deputy Mayor Julia Parfitt says the Council chose to support prisoners’ art because of the opportunities it created for the prison, prisoners and the North Shore community.
Farewell interview: Chief Executive Barry Matthews
Barry was appointed Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections in February 2005. He is retiring at the end of the year.
How did you come to take the Chief Executive’s job?
I was approached by the State Services Commission’s recruitment company. At first I said no – I’d just retired as Commissioner of Police in Western Australia – and I wanted something less high profile. But the then State Services Commissioner Mark Prebble convinced me I had the skills Corrections needed, so I re-thought. I applied and got the job.
What have been your top three achievements?
It’s difficult to select just three, as overall there has been an ongoing improvement in performance across the organisation in all areas. We are much better resourced to attain our goals.
But if I had to pick three areas worthy of comment:
Sentence compliance is much better now. If offenders don’t comply we’re quickly onto them to take action.
Setting up the Professional Standards Unit, staffed by experienced investigators. They have had success in catching those few staff who, for personal gain, are undermining all the rest of our staff by engaging in corruption.
Cellphone jamming which has been quite unique but an effective way to make cell-phones inoperative in prisons.
Do you have any regrets?
Obviously the incidents where someone has been hurt or killed. It’s impossible to say as the Chief Executive ‘I could have prevented it’, but we have a degree of control over some of it. On each occasion we have made changes, as far as is possible, to prevent things like it happening again.
Has it ever been difficult to be a civil servant – following the priorities of the government of the day?
Not really. You make suggestions to government and some things they pick up and some they don’t. I’m always conscious that Ministers need to maintain public support because otherwise they don’t get re-elected. But my role is to implement the policies of the government and I haven’t had a strong aversion to anything.
What will you miss once you’ve left?
I’ll miss the people. One of the most endearing features of Corrections staff is that they are passionate about making a difference. They are working with offenders most people wouldn’t tolerate. And yet our people stick at it.
What won’t you miss?
I won’t miss having a media profile and often having to front when something’s gone wrong or been perceived to have gone wrong. I won’t miss being rung at any time of the day or night over an incident which inevitably is bad news.
Do you have any message for the next Chief Executive?
It’s a good organisation. It’s staffed and managed by good people who will walk over broken glass to help you – especially on the front line. On some occasions they get it wrong, but they need to be supported if they’re doing their best even when they sometimes get it wrong. The organisation has made significant improvements and can continuously improve and it’s on the right track for that to happen.
I’m going to take a holiday, spend more time with the family, do some sailing, and take some time to travel overseas with my wife.
New Drug Treatment Unit for Auckland
A new Drug Treatment Unit at Auckland Prison, opened by Corrections Minister Hon Judith Collins on 4 November, is a first for Auckland.
The new unit is part of a nationwide plan to double the number of prisoners receiving treatment from 500 to 1000 a year by the end of 2011.
Including the new Auckland unit, Corrections operates eight Drug Treatment Units in prisons around the country. This will increase to nine in 2011 when a new unit opens at Whanganui Prison.
“Prisoners who succeed on this programme will be less likely to re-offend, making our communities safer,” says Prison Services Assistant General Manager Dr Brendan Anstiss.
“Drugs and alcohol are a major driver of crime. In 2007, seven out of ten offenders apprehended by Police were under the influence of drugs leading up to their arrest,” he says.
The new unit will house up to 48 prisoners at a time. It will run an intensive 12-week programme delivered by clinical staff from the Odyssey House Auckland Trust. It is targeted at prisoners serving shorter prison sentences of between four and twelve months.
In groups of twelve, prisoners will learn to change negative patterns of behaviour and feelings that influence their substance use.
CEO of Odyssey House Auckland Trust Christine Kalin says to be accepted on the programme prisoners must want to do something about their addiction.
“Participants will develop comprehensive relapse prevention plans during treatment so that when released they can identify situations where they may be at risk of relapse and know how to deal with them.”
Drug Treatment Programmes produce positive results
Usually the words ‘positive result’ don’t sit well with those delivering drug and alcohol treatment programmes, but for the Corrections Drug Treatment Units they signal that we’re moving in the right direction.
A recent evaluation of the effectiveness of the Drug Treatment Units (DTUs) has delivered some exciting results, with re-offending and reconviction rates going down, and particularly good results for Maori offenders.
“A recent analysis of the Department’s Drug Treatment Units shows that prisoners completing the programme can reduce their re-offending rates by up to one third, compared to similar offenders who don’t do the treatment. These results are world class,” says Alison Thom, General Manager Rehabilitation and Reintegration Services.
“Corrections has been running the DTU programmes for 10 years now, and results like these show that they work to turn prisoners’ lives around, reduce addictions, and keep the public safer.”
The analysis also showed that Maori offenders achieved particularly good outcomes through participating in DTUs, which is encouraging given the Department’s commitment to addressing Maori over-representation in the offender population.
“We’re really pleased with these results, and they reinforce that we are doing the right thing in increasing the number of beds available. We’re also currently working on getting the next DTU up and running – it will be housed in the Whanganui Prison Maori Focus Unit – hopefully further improving the benefits to Maori prisoners,” says Alison.
Balancing risk with opportunity
Corrections has established a new Risk Assurance and Business Improvement (RABI) team to improve risk management across the Department.
Director of the new team, Warren Cummins, says it’s all about balancing risk with opportunities.
“At Corrections, we deal with people who’ve broken the law, so we need really robust risk management. We also need good risk assurance – where we make sure what we think is being done is being done.”
The RABI team includes a business continuity manager, two risk advisors, and the Internal Audit Team. The team will link closely with quality, assurance and business improvement staff across Corrections’ main groups and services. The team will also work in partnership with the Department’s new Portfolio Management Office to ensure risk information is captured only once and in a consistent way.
“If risk is managed well, workloads will go down as we spend less time repeating old mistakes,” he says.
“For example, when we implemented an improvement plan at Auckland Prison based on managing risk, we saw the incident rate go down from 1003 incidents in 2009, to 391 in 2010. Obviously that had a positive impact on staff morale as well.
“The RABI group will be here to help, but Corrections groups and services will still be responsible for their own risk management. I want staff and managers alike to think about the things that keep them awake at night and then use the risk management framework to figure out what to do about them.”
RABI is an initiative arising from the ‘Value for Money’ review of Corrections. The review identified the need to improve our risk responsibilities as a department, so that we can be more accountable and achieve better outcomes.
Getting shipshape in Picton
Much of Picton’s maritime heritage is looking pretty spruce thanks to a decade-long partnership between Corrections and the Picton PowerHouse Maritime Heritage Reserve.
“We’ve had offenders on community work sentences helping us from day one,” says Picton PowerHouse Maritime Heritage Reserve Manager Carey White.
“The offenders help in all areas that we work on: from restoring buildings and boats, to gardening and landscaping and anything in between.
“It’s good for the offenders to have productive work and it makes a huge difference to us because we couldn’t afford to cover the costs of the hundreds of work hours the offenders have given us,” says Carey.
“As well as helping non-profit organisations such as the PowerHouse Maritime Heritage Reserve, the community work sentence is an opportunity for offenders to give something back to the community,” says Blenheim Community Probation Services Manager Nathan Harmon.
Annually, New Zealand communities benefit from nearly 4 million hours of labour supplied through community work sentences.
Emerging from the rubble
It’s hard to imagine the experiences and feelings of people during and after Canterbury’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake in early September. For staff in the area’s prisons, responsible for the safe and secure containment of over 1300 prisoners, the feeling would have most certainly been one of grave concern.
The effects of this earthquake, and the many aftershocks, are going to be with us for a long time, and the recovery process is far from over.
Rolleston Prison was lucky enough to avoid any major structural damage and was operating normally less than a week after the earthquake. Christchurch Women’s Prison is now operating normally too, following some damage to its infrastructure, and all female prisoners have been returned after their transfer to Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility.
Christchurch Men’s Prison, however, has not been so lucky. It was the worst hit of the region’s prisons and while some areas are now safe, around 300 prisoners are still being kept at other prisons around the country. The structural damage is still being assessed, but the continued aftershocks are hampering this process.
Transferring such a large number of prisoners has posed a vast array of issues. We’ve had to consider how to manage transferred prisoners’ belongings, their Court and Parole Board appearances, as well as upcoming release dates, and how to best address the interruption of rehabilitation programmes.
There’s currently capacity at Christchurch Men’s to house 360 prisoners safely and securely, so prisoners with Parole Board and Court appearances have been returned to Christchurch Men’s.
And on 23 September, just 19 days after the earthquake, fourteen prisoners graduated from the Drug Treatment Unit (DTU) programme at Christchurch Men’s Prison, taking a big step towards turning their lives around and giving us something to celebrate after an unsettling time.
Staff management and support remains a prominent concern. This has not been an easy time for our people in Christchurch, but they have risen to the occasion magnificently and faced up to the many challenges.
Staff around the country have been supporting their colleagues in Canterbury by getting involved in fundraising activities, with thousands of dollars given to the Mayoral Relief Fund. Others have offered baches, caravans and even spare bedrooms in their homes for staff in Christchurch to use if they need a break.
With fewer prisoners in the region, we’ve increased training programmes so staff can make good use of their ‘free’ time to recertify their core training or undertake other training as needed.
Community Probation Services in city-based offices have had to adapt quickly to continue managing the many offenders in the community. The Pages Road site remains closed. However, offender reporting is continuing and a new service centre has been set up to help out.
We have a labour force of around 2,400 offenders on community work in the Christchurch area and, since the earthquake, they have carried out projects assisting Councils, Civil Defence and individuals. These projects have included clearing debris and heavily silted areas, and helping older people by clearing their driveways so they can use their cars.
The overall response has been a truly Departmental one, with credit going to all our staff around the country who have put in so much extra energy. While this is not an easy time, it has certainly demonstrated the calibre and commitment of our staff, and the robustness of the systems and procedures we have to deal with a civil emergency and its effects.
Quick-smart boost to prison beds: Double bunking
In just over a year Corrections has added the equivalent capacity of three of its newest prisons thanks to the highly successful Double Bunking Project.
By double bunking selected cells, recruiting over 380 staff, and constructing or upgrading staff and prisoner facilities with minimal disruption, the project has delivered about 880 extra beds on time and significantly under budget.
It puts Corrections in a good position to meet the rising demand for prisoner accommodation quickly and cost-effectively.
The four prisons that have received additional double bunking are: Spring Hill Corrections Facility, Otago Corrections Facility, Northland Region Corrections Facility and Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility.
They have the most modern security measures in place, have good infrastructure and are best able to handle increased prisoner numbers.
Custodial Systems Manager at Otago Corrections Facility, Colin Ropiha, says they have had double bunking for about eight months and that it is working well.
“Some prisoners requested they be doubled bunked with others they feel are role models to them or that they can get along well with. It has made some of them less aggressive and less contentious.
“A lot are quite happy as they have been able to share resources like a radio or TV,” he says.
Spring Hill Corrections Facility Manager, Gavin Dalziel, agrees that there can be advantages in having prisoners together.
“They can assist each other to cope with the fact that they are incarcerated. So if you have got someone who is prone to anxiety, you can have someone in there, a cellmate, who can keep an eye on them.”
All prisoners who are double bunked are carefully assessed before being put in with another prisoner. Corrections has developed a ‘shared cell risk assessment’ tool to help staff determine the suitability of prisoners for double bunking.
Staff to prisoner ratios have remained the same, so the project’s sizeable HR challenge was to recruit and train over 380 staff, including nearly 75 percent custodial staff, between July 2009 and September 2010.
Corrections’ Furniture, Fitting and Equipment Team has been responsible for fitting out over 1,300 ‘spaces’, from cells and toilets to kitchens, gatehouses and health units. The team also obtained a ‘truckload’ of quotes to ensure 5,700 items were delivered, ranging from search, medical and laundry equipment to cell furniture and consumables.
Double bunking facts
- 886 new beds
- 100,000 kg of steel in the new bunks
- 2,310m3 of concrete used for the bunks and additional infrastructure
Case by case - sentences explained: Prison Sentence
This column profiles an offender and introduces you to some of the ways we manage their sentence.
Occupation: Unemployed at time of sentencing
Offence: Aggravated robbery, supply methamphetamine
Sentence: 13 years imprisonment (currently two years into his sentence)
Managed by: Whanganui Prison Maori Focus Unit
Situation: Rutene is a gang member who’s been in prison several times before, but this is easily his longest sentence. Although he’s lived a criminal lifestyle since he was a teenager, this time Rutene seems to be making genuine changes.
* This profile is based on details from several offenders who are serving a sentence of this type.
The Corrections team
The Corrections team that manages Rutene includes:
Sentence Planner Dayle Brooks
Soon after Rutene arrived in prison, Sentence Planner Dayle sat down with him to assess him and write a sentence plan. Among other questions, Dayle asked him if he wanted to work and if he wanted to attend the Maori Focus Unit – Rutene wanted to do both.
Because Rutene has a long history of drug-taking, Dayle put a six-month programme at a Drug and Alcohol Unit into his sentence plan. Rutene also has a history of violence, so Dayle put an assessment by Psychological Services onto the plan as well. Both of these things will happen nearer the end of Rutene’s sentence as rehabilitation programmes are more effective closer to a prisoner’s release date.
Principal Corrections Officer Marsh Tangaroa
Marsh is in charge of the Maori Focus Unit where Rutene is now incarcerated. Although Rutene has only been there for a few months, he has behaved well and shown leadership qualities which have led to him being voted into the unit rununga (committee) by the other prisoners in the unit. This means he meets with Marsh regularly to discuss the running of the unit. Rutene also helps to welcome new prisoners to the unit, find out their knowledge of tikanga Maori, and pass on the kaupapa of the unit. When Rutene was first elected to the runanga, Marsh noticed he didn’t always attend the powhiri for new prisoners. Marsh had a word with him and now Rutene always attends.
Corrections Officer John Maniapoto
John works in the Maori Focus Unit and sees Rutene on a day-to-day basis. John spoke to Rutene when he first came to the unit, and has found that Rutene’s initial comments about wanting to put his past behind him seem very true.
‘Active management’ is a key part of a corrections officer’s role, and John spends a lot of time trying to motivate some prisoners to change and to take part in programmes and work training. Rutene, however, motivates himself, and is a good role model to other prisoners as he puts a lot of energy into his work in the Corrections Inmate Employment pre-cast concrete yard.
If anything, Rutene is keen to do more to change; he recently came to John to ask why he couldn’t do a rehabilitation programme now. John referred him back to sentence planner Dayle, who explained that the programmes are more effective in reducing re-offending when done close to release. Rutene will probably be suitable – but later in his sentence.
Prison Chaplain Richard Jackson
Although Rutene was always friendly, at first he only entered into discussions with Richard in an attempt to ‘trip him up’. But as Richard discussed some of the big questions of life with him, Rutene’s attitude changed and he began to further question his old priorities and consider what really matters in life. He was also able to talk to Richard about missing his family – especially his children. Rutene is now committed to the Christian faith and this seems to be contributing to his good behaviour in prison.
The difficulty of predicting dangerousness
By David Riley, Chief Adviser Psychological Services
As I discussed in my last column, the landmark Tarasoff ruling in 1976 by the California Supreme Court clearly signalled that practitioners must both assess the risk their clients pose, and take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of likely victims.
The timing of that decision coincided with two important follow-up studies of mental hospital patients who had been released from involuntary confinement in New York and Pennsylvania, after successful action had been brought on the basis of civil rights. In both of these States, large numbers of habitual offenders and psychiatric patients had been confined in mental hospitals on the basis of the judged danger which they posed to the wider community. Once the Courts had decided that such ongoing confinement was unconstitutional, these people were released, and their post-release behaviour was closely monitored.
Both groups were studied in detail, and the results were equally alarming. In both groups only a very small minority went on to commit violent acts. Analysis of their institutional files revealed that very little discriminated between those who went on to behave violently and those who did not. When attempts were made to create scales to predict violent behaviour, the best which could be achieved was a modest level of accuracy, and there was a misclassification of three non violent individuals for every person who was correctly identified as a violence risk.
Writing in 1981, John Monahan, the acknowledged doyen of dangerousness prediction, discussed the magnitude of this problem, but did idicate that risk predictions offered by responsible professionals were in many cases not only highly desirable but also ’vitally necessary’.
The next 15 years saw a proliferation of studies which, among other things, indicated that the judgments of professionals were singularly ineffective in predicting violent behaviour, and that even rudimentary checklists tended to outperform the best efforts of psychiatrists, psychologists, and experienced correctional staff.
The problem remained, however, that most efforts were bedevilled by the problem of massive over prediction of future violent behaviour with the obvious consequence of unnecessarily curtailing the liberty of people who would not go on to commit violent acts.
Measuring certain personality traits, as well as looking at historical information going back as early as elementary (primary) school, helped to predict future violence risk somewhat, but relying on historical information did not take account of the positive changes brought about by treatment or a person’s own efforts to rehabilitate themselves.
It is really only in the last decade that modern approaches have begun to use both historical information and information about a person’s current functioning and social adjustment.
This more comprehensive approach to the assessment of risk enables not only a more accurate prediction to be made, but also highlights those factors which may be changed in order to mitigate future risk of violent and aggressive behaviour.
Here in New Zealand, Corrections psychologists closely monitor international developments in the area of violence risk assessment. We incorporate new approaches to risk assessment into our clinical practice once these approaches have been demonstrated to be effective.
One of my greatest concerns as Minister of Corrections is the safety of our frontline Corrections staff.
I can say from experience that the worst news you can receive as a Minister is to learn that an officer has been seriously assaulted or killed.
That is why one of my top priorities has been to introduce new measures to improve the safety of our corrections officers.
Last month, the Government introduced legislation that makes offending against corrections and police officers a mandatory aggravating factor at sentencing.
The changes are contained in the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill.
Under the current Sentencing Act, the fact that an offence has been committed against a law enforcement officer is not an aggravating factor that must be taken into account at sentencing.
The change in this legislation will rectify this and send a very clear message that an attack on a corrections officer will not be tolerated. In fact, an assault on a corrections officer represents an attack on the community and the rule of law.
The new aggravating factor does not automatically require an increase in an offender’s sentence. However, explicit legislation denouncing this type of offending will help ensure courts impose tough penalties.
Corrections officers have an incredibly tough job to do. Prisons, by their very nature, can be volatile and dangerous places.
They are full of people who do not want to be there, who do not want to be told what to do and who can react violently to something or someone who is in their way.
Thankfully, major assaults on staff are rare. However, low-level assaults on staff happen almost every day in New Zealand prisons. In fact, between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the total number of assaults doubled from 151 to 304.
We owe it to Corrections staff to ensure they have the training and tools that will allow them to keep themselves as safe as possible.
All 3,500 frontline corrections officers have now received training in tactical communication and de-escalation techniques. This training helps officers calm and talk-down escalating and potentially dangerous situations.
This training was part of a $3.6 million package launched earlier this year to improve staff safety. The package also made additional personal safety equipment, such as stab-proof vests, available to staff working in high risk situations.
My hope is that these changes will result in lower numbers of injuries to our staff and safer prisons for everybody.
Hon Judith Collins
Minister of Corrections
Sickie fails to fool
A corrections officer at Auckland Central Remand Prison heard something that suggested a prisoner was going to pretend to be very unwell. The prisoner was hoping for an escort to hospital, where he would try to escape. The Operational Intelligence Team monitored the prisoners’ phone calls and confirmed the plan. Armed with this information, health services staff were quickly able to spot that the prisoner was faking and the escape bid was foiled.
Spicy package found
Staff at Christchurch Men’s Prison alerted their Intelligence Team to something going on between two prisoners. The drug dog handler monitored their calls and heard the sister of one of the prisoners being asked to bring in drugs during a visit. Even though she tried to disguise the smell of the cannabis with layers of food-wrap and quantities of black pepper, the dog quickly found the drugs. She now has a drug conviction and has been banned from visiting the prison.
Tracking offenders using GPS
In October, Community Probation Services began a trial of GPS (Global Positioning System) technology to test its potential for monitoring offenders serving community-based sentences.
CPS General Manager Katrina Casey says the trial will test the functionality, accuracy and usefulness of GPS monitoring in a wide range of geographical situations and environments.
“The trial will give us more information on whether GPS technology can help us achieve higher rates of offender compliance and reduce the likelihood of re-offending,” she says.
The trial will not initially involve offenders, but will use CPS staff volunteers in different locations around New Zealand to replicate conditions of offender risk management and different sentence types.
“If the trial using staff is a success, we’ll extend it to monitor a small number of carefully selected offenders in the first half of 2011,” says Katrina.
The trial will test how well GPS can track people to ensure they stay in restricted areas, such as their home. It will also explore how GPS technology can create ‘exclusion zones’ to send an alarm if an offender tries to go somewhere they shouldn’t, such as a certain part of town, a school or park, or a victim’s house.
The trial will test three different types of monitoring equipment and will allow CPS to compare the merits of each. The technology being tested includes a single anklet device the offender wears and a two-piece device incorporating a transmitter on the offender’s ankle and a communication unit on the offender’s belt. The communication unit has a screen and allows for interactive text and voice communications.