Prisoner complaints

Defining a complaint

A complaint exists when a prisoner, or other person acting in the interests of a prisoner, formally draws attention, either orally or in writing, to any action which the complainant wishes to have investigated.

PC.01.01 Complaint resolution approach

  1. Our approach is to resolve complaints informally at the lowest level if possible, in the circumstances, usually by staff at the unit or site.
  2. If this cannot happen, or if the prisoner wishes to escalate the issue, the Department of Corrections has a formal process to manage complaints:
    1. at the prison site; or
    2. by the Inspector of Corrections (see [PC.01.12 Complaints to official agencies] for more information including contact details).
  3. Most complaints are expected to follow the internal process and receive a response from prison staff before an inspector will investigate.
  4. Prisoners can contact the Inspectorate in the first instance in cases of safety or urgency. These include:
    1. any situation where there are concerns about the immediate safety or health care of any individual
    2. where timeframes have not been met for prisoner misconduct matters
    3. prison management decisions relating to temporary removal / release on compassionate grounds
    4. concern about prisoner Christmas early release applications
    5. concern about Visitor Prohibition Orders.

PC.01.02 Initial issue raised by prisoner

  1. If a prisoner raises an “issue” with a staff member, the staff member assists by taking all reasonable attempts to address the issue. Staff being responsive to any issues raised by a prisoner may eliminate a subsequent complaint.
    Note: An “issue” includes a concern, query or complaint that can be dealt with informally.
  2. Staff consider whether / if:
    1. this is something they can answer
    2. they know who could provide the answer
    3. this is something they can find the answer to
    4. this is something they can direct the prisoner to find on the kiosk.
  3. Staff can offer to assist a prisoner to enter the issue on the prisoner kiosk. If the prisoner is unable to access the kiosk staff must enter the issue in the notification section of a prisoner’s landing page in IOMS.
  4. Staff (and persons conducting formal complaint interviews) must refer to the [PC.01.Res.09 Considerations for effective complaint resolution] resource to assist with informal and formal (interview) to assist with resolving prisoner issues.
  5. Staff must be aware that if an “issue” is not resolved within 24 hours it will become a complaint in the notification screen where it must then be assigned to a PCO.

PC.01.03 Making a formal complaint

  1. If an issue cannot be resolved informally and/or a prisoner wishes to make a formal complaint, unit staff must:
    1. advise the prisoner of the internal complaint process and may provide a copy of the information booklet (see [PC.01.Res.04 Information on the complaints process in prisons])
    2. provide the prisoner with a [PC.01 Form.01 Prisoner complaint], or
    3. advise the prisoner they can make a complaint on the prisoner kiosk.

PC.01.04 Prisoner completing the PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint

  1. Staff must assist any prisoner who appears to have difficulties with oral or written communication, or has difficulty communicating in English with completing the [PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint].
  2. The prisoner is advised that they may have a support person or advocate who can:
    1. assist in completing the form
    2. act as an interpreter
    3. assist in responding and representing the prisoner’s complaint, but;
    4. not act in any legal capacity or be legally qualified.

      For guidance on working with ‘complaint advocates’ refer to [Complaints Advocate Guidance] under Related Links / Other Links.

  3. The prisoner can record any information on the form outlining the complaint. Exceptions that the prisoner must be advised about include:
    1. Health, Psychological or Programmes complaints – If the issue is about the persons health, psychology or programme needs, they must talk to health, psychology or programme staff first. Further information is available in other links.
    2. if the complaint relates to a person that the complaint may be referred to, the nature of the complaint does not need to be disclosed.
  4. If information is withheld from the form or in the notification screen for the above reason/s, staff must not ask the prisoner about it (see [PC.01.06 Recording complaint details] for further guidance).

PC.01.05 Receiving a complaint

  1. When an officer receives a [PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint] they must enter the information into IOMS using the add request/complaint button on a prisoners summary page and then create a copy of the form and give the copy to the prisoner as confirmation their complaint has been received.
  2. The prisoner will also be able to view their request/complaint in the kiosk. Staff MUST NOT use the maintain complaints section of IOMS to enter new request/complaints (Auckland South Correctional Facility must continue to use the maintain complaints screen in IOMS).

PC.01.06 Recording complaint details

  1. The officer receiving the [PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint] must enter the complaint details into the prisoner summary page notification section by clicking add new request/complaint.
  2. The complaint details are entered exactly as the prisoner has written them, with the following exceptions:
    1. if the prisoner submits a lengthy complaint, with multiple pages in addition to the [PC.01.Form. 01 Prisoner complaint], staff will:
      1. summarise the main points from the [PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint] and additional pages into the notification screen on the prisoners landing page.
      2. ensure IOMS includes detail that a full copy of the prisoners [PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint] and additional pages is attached to the printed IOMS complaint form located on the prisoner file for reference purposes
      3. ensure a full copy of the prisoner written complaint and additional pages are attached to the IOMS complaint form that is provided to the prisoner.
        Watch Point Multiple additional pages are lengthy - The size of the paper (A4, A5), writing size, style, layout and structure is to be taken into consideration regarding the number of pages supplied. For example, Prisoners with large writing may cover multiple A5 pages but can still be easily recorded into IOMS by staff.
    2. if the complaint is about staff conduct or attitude, the name of the staff member involved is not recorded in IOMS – refer to [IR.07 Allegations against staff] for more information.
    3. if the complaint is about a Health, Psychology or Programme matter then the prisoner must be directed to Health, Psychology or Programme staff member first. All Health / Psychology / Programmes complaints must be managed by the Health, Psychology or Programmes teams. No Health, Psychology or Programme complaints are to be recorded in IOMS.
      Refer to [Health / Psychology / Programme] under Related links for further information.
  3. Once the complaint details have been entered into IOMS the officer receiving the complaint must advise the prisoner of the registration number within 24 hours of the complaint being received from the prisoner.

PC.01.07 Referring a complaint

  1. Once the complaint is registered in IOMS the officer must ensure that the unit principal corrections officer (PCO) is notified that a complaint requires action.
    Note: The complaint will remain in the IOMS notification screen while the complaint is being processed.
  2. The PCO must decide who is best placed to take the action to resolve the complaint and interview the prisoner. This will most often be the PCO themselves, however, the PCO may refer it to another appropriate person such as a residential manager, depending on the subject of the complaint.
  3. The PCO must refer complaints on immediately in the following cases:
    1. Complaints about staff conduct and attitude must be referred to the prison director
      Note: Any allegation against staff must be closed in IOMS and referred to the [IR.07 Allegations Against Staff] process, including allegations about:
      1. assault by staff on prisoner
      2. assault by staff on another person
      3. criminal offence by staff (other than assault) while on duty
      4. misconduct by staff while on duty.
    2. complaints about a prison director must be forwarded to the regional commissioner by the prison director
    3. complaints about health, psychological or programmes must not be entered into IOMS at all. However, if they are inadvertently entered by a prisoner or staff member, they must be closed in IOMS and referred to the Health centre Manager (health), Manager Psychological Services (psychology) or Manager Interventions, Programmes & Employment (programmes).
    4. complaints about offender employment activities must be referred to the Manager Industries who will arrange an interview within 7 working days of being notified.
  4. If any other complaint cannot be resolved at the unit level, the PCO must refer it to the next appropriate level within 3 working days of being registered in IOMS.
  5. If the PCO is referring a complaint to the next appropriate level, they must note this in section B of the IOMS complaint screen (along with any other actions taken).
  6. A numbered copy of the IOMS generated complaint form with the updates is printed and given to the prisoner to keep them updated on progress with their complaint. ‘Copy to inmate’ is ticked in section B to record the copy has been provided.

PC.01.08 Actions to resolve complaint

  1. The person who the complaint was referred to by the PCO (or the PCO themselves if they have interviewed the prisoner) must complete section C ‘further action taken’ in the IOMS complaint screen. This includes relevant information from the interview with the prisoner, IOMS files notes, or further information obtained following speaking with staff involved.
  2. Once section C is completed in IOMS, the person conducting the interview must print another numbered copy of the IOMS generated complaint form for the prisoner and tick ‘copy to inmate’ in section C.
    Note: All information recorded in section C will be sent to the kiosk where the prisoner can access the information.
  3. If a prisoner is received on transfer and complaints are located on the prisoner’s file that have not been recorded in IOMS, the PCO must record them in the notification section of IOMS and register the complaint against the prison in which the events occurred. Once the PCO has recorded the complaint(s) and the receiving site PCO is unable to resolve the complaint in IOMS they must notify the applicable prison director by email that the complaint has been recorded in IOMS for them to complete the process.
  4. If the prisoner is Off Muster at the time the complaint is processed, staff must still record the complaint in the notification section of IOMS. If the complaint relates to compensation (for lost or damaged property) or alleges misconduct by staff, the complaint must be managed as if the prisoner was still On Muster. Apart from this requirement to record the complaint on IOMS, all other complaints for Off Muster prisoners can be closed as there is no meaningful way to progress a complaint in the prisoner’s absence.

PC.01.09 Interviewing the prisoner

  1. The prisoner must be interviewed within 3 working days of the complaint being registered in IOMS.
  2. The exceptions are if the complaint:
    1. cannot be resolved at unit level and the PCO or residential manager is not conducting the interview. The PCO must email the person they referred the complaint to within 3 working days of the complaint being registered in IOMS
    2. has been referred on by the PCO, that person has 7 working days from being advised to conduct the interview and update IOMS section C ‘further action taken’.
  3. At the interview the prisoner can be accompanied by a support person or advocate as long as they are not the prisoner’s legal advisor.
  4. The interviewer must attempt to resolve the complaint promptly where possible.

PC.01.10 Complaint resolution

  1. The interviewer is responsible for detailing the outcome of the interview in section C ‘further action taken’ of the IOMS complaint screen within 7 working days of receiving notice to conduct the interview. The outcome includes any action the Department has taken in response to the complaint, or any decisions made as a consequence of the complaint.
  2. If an action is agreed on and the prisoner accepts the resolution of the complaint, this information is recorded in section C. The prisoner is then provided with a numbered copy of the IOMS generated complaint form. ‘Copy to inmate’ and ‘situation resolved’ can then be ticked in IOMS. Ticking ‘situation resolved’ closes the complaint.
    Note: All information recorded in section C will be sent to the kiosk where the prisoner can access the information.
  3. If the interviewer is unable to resolve the complaint, they may need to refer it to a person at the next level of delegated authority as follows:
    1. if the interview was conducted by the PCO, they must refer the complaint to the residential manager
    2. if the interviewer needs to escalate the complaint, they must ensure the next person to further interview the prisoner is informed
    3. the complaint must be left 'open' in IOMS (do not tick 'situation resolved')
    4. section C 'further action taken' is updated to reflect the outcome of the initial interview (including who the complaint is being referred to)
    5. once section C is updated the interviewer must provide the updated, numbered version of the IOMS generated complaint form to the prisoner and tick 'copy to inmate'.
      Note: All information recorded in section C will be sent to the kiosk where the prisoner can access the information.
  4. The person who receives the unresolved complaint must investigate it within 10 working days of referral. This person must ensure the prisoner is informed of progress.
  5. When the complaint is ongoing the investigator must notify the prisoner on a monthly basis in writing (by printing the updated IOMS generated Complaints form and giving it to the prisoner) and if practicable, orally, of progress on the complaint. These actions are recorded in section C ‘further action taken’.
  6. A complaint is resolved internally when any one of the following has occurred:
    1. all legal and reasonable steps have been taken to address the substance of the complaint
    2. the complainant withdraws a complaint
    3. it is referred on to an appropriate external official agency
    4. it is referred back to an appropriate lower level for any action agreed to be taken.
  7. When a complaint is resolved, the interviewing person will complete section C, print a copy of the resolution and give it to the prisoner (see [PC.01.12 Complaints to official agencies]) then tick ‘copy to inmate’ and tick ‘situation resolved’.
    Note: All information that has been recorded in section C will also be sent to the kiosk where the prisoner can access the information.

PC.01.11 Frivolous or vexatious complaints

  1. If the interviewing officer considers that the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, they must refer the matter to the prison director. The prison director must consider each complaint on a case-by-case basis, and determine if the complaint:
    1. is an abuse of the complaint process
    2. is not made in good faith
    3. attempts to re-open an issue that has been properly resolved.
  2. The prison director must consult with the senior advisor to the regional commissioner before determining whether or not to investigate a frivolous or vexatious complaint.
  3. If the prison director decides that the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, the prison director must ensure that the prisoner is promptly notified in writing (by completing the "agreed action" section on the IOMS generated Complaints form and providing the prisoner with a copy of this form) and, if practicable also orally, of the decision not to investigate the complaint.
  4. The prison director must advise the prisoner about their right to complain to an official agency (e.g. the Office of the Ombudsmen or Inspector of Corrections).
  5. Prison directors are responsible for maintaining a register of all complaints not investigated because they are considered to be frivolous or vexatious (made up of completed [PC.01.Form.01 Prisoner complaint] and IOMS generated complaints forms with evidence that this decision was made in consultation with the senior advisor to the regional commissioner)

PC.01.12 Complaints to official agencies

  1. Prisoners must be advised that they have the right to seek assistance from official agencies in relation to making a complaint at any time. “Official agencies” refer to Inspectors of Corrections and external official agencies.
  2. Prisoners must however be advised that most complaints will need to follow the internal process and receive a response from the site before an official agency will address their complaint.
  3. Where the prison site has investigated a complaint, the prisoner must be advised they can contact an official agency if they are not satisfied with the resolution.
  4. A prisoner can contact the Inspectorate of Corrections:
    1. In writing at Private Box 1206, Wellington 6140 or
    2. By calling 0800 225 697 or access code 21.
  5. The prisoner can also contact any of the following external official agencies:
    1. Office of the Ombudsman 0800 662 837 or access code 22.
    2. Nationwide Health and Disability Advocacy Service 0800 555 050 or access code 23.
    3. Health and Disability Commissioner 0800 112 233 or access code 24.
    4. Privacy Commissioner 0800 803 909 or access code 25.
    5. Independent Police Conduct Authority 0800 503 728 or access code 26.
    6. Human Rights Commission 0800 496 877 or access code 27.

PC.01.13 Complaints to an Inspector of Corrections

  1. An Inspector of Corrections will contact site staff requesting information to support their investigation of a complaint. .
  2. An Inspector must be given access to any person in a prison where the complainant is or was detained. Inspectors must also be given access to any records relevant to the complaint.
  3. To investigate a complaint, an Inspector may:
    1. enter a prison at any time; and
    2. have access to all parts of the prison: and
    3. have access to any other prisoners; and
    4. have access to any vehicle used to transport any prisoner during the complainant’s period of detention.
  4. If an Inspector investigates a complaint, the Inspector must conduct the investigation reasonably promptly. They must inform the prisoner and the other persons concerned, promptly after the conclusion of the investigation and in a manner that the Inspector considers appropriate, of:
    1. the result of the investigation; and
    2. any further action the inspector proposes to take in respect of the complaint.

PC.01.14 Complaints to External Official Agencies

  1. External official agencies will contact the Department requesting information to support their investigation of a complaint. The Department’s Monitoring Agency Relationships (MAR) Team manages information requests from external official agencies. The external official agency may:
    1. refer a prisoner to advocacy or mediation services
    2. refer a complaint back to the site or to an Inspector if it has not already been investigated through those processes
    3. attempt to resolve the complaint informally through communication with the prisoner and the Department of Corrections
    4. formally investigate the complaint.
  2. To support the external official agency investigation, department staff and Inspectors must give the MAR team any records relevant to the complaint. The MAR team will work with the relevant staff to draft a response to the external official agency.

PC.01.15 Responding to official agency recommendations and directions

  1. An Inspector may, during or after an investigation, make recommendations about practices or procedures to any person who they consider may receive the recommendation. External official agencies can also make similar recommendations.
  2. If any official agency makes a recommendation in relation to a complaint, the MAR team must record it in the Recommendations Reviewer.
  3. The assigned “action owner” must ensure that the official agency’s recommendations are addressed and responded to in an appropriate manner, and that regular updates are recorded in the Recommendations Reviewer.