Practice note: International Symposium on Operational Correctional Issues and Challenges

Neil Beales
Chief Custodial Officer, Department of Corrections

Steven Gibson
Manager National Intelligence Unit, Department of Corrections

Author biographies:

Neil Beales has worked in corrections since 1991. He started as an officer in the English and Welsh Service, progressing through the ranks to deputy governor and working at a number of different prisons including adult, young offender, and juvenile institutions, until moving to New Zealand in 2009 to take up the post of Prison Manager of Auckland Prison. He held this position until being appointed as Chief Custodial Officer in 2012.

Steven Gibson has worked for the Department of Corrections since 2014 as the Manager of the National Intelligence Unit. Before this, he worked in various intelligence roles within the New Zealand Police and wider NZ Government, primarily focused on strategic intelligence. Steven has significant experience in intelligence support to major national and international events, including disaster recovery. Steven has been heavily involved in developing the intelligence architecture within the department and growing its strategic intelligence capability.

They say that a problem shared is a problem halved, so in January 2017, the Chief Custodial Officer and the Manager National Intelligence Unit accepted the invitation to attend the International Symposium on Operational Correctional Issues and Challenges in Ottawa, Canada.

The symposium was chaired by Commissioner Don Head of the Correctional Service Canada and, along with New Zealand, was attended by delegates from Hong Kong, Namibia, USA, Sweden, England, Wales, the Netherlands, Australia (Victoria) and Japan.

The purpose of the symposium was to identify and discuss common issues and challenges with a focus on two specific areas – contraband control and population management. It included site visits to the Collins Bay Institution and the Henry Traill Community Correctional Centre in Kingston, Ontario.

Each country’s representatives were given the opportunity to present an overview of their operating context and their departmental structures as well as sharing insights into their issues and challenges. Whilst each presentation highlighted areas specific to the individual country, it was clear that there were more similarities between our jurisdictions than differences. Some of these were in relation to challenges with contraband detection and elimination, specifically drugs (including the increasing use of synthetic drugs), cell phones, drone intrusions, the use of technology, training, and prison design and infrastructure to support the detection and elimination of contraband. In addition almost every jurisdiction identified challenges in prisoners’ mental health and associated risks as a priority focus.

Due to the sensitive nature of the discussion it is not possible to go into specific detail on the systems being used or considered, however, it was clear that New Zealand is not alone in facing these challenges. In particular, drones and cell phone technology present the same threat for all countries – though there are also opportunities to exploit the new technology to enhance our security as well.

Day two featured a number of presentations on strategies to manage prisoner violence, the use of segregation and the use of technology and prison design to support population management strategies. Once again almost all jurisdictions agreed that challenges were broadly similar and there was in-depth discussion on issues such as gangs, safety initiatives and staff training and support.

On the final day there was an opportunity to visit a Canadian prison (Collins Bay Institution) and a community site (The Henry Traill Centre).

The Collins Bay Institution opened in 1930 and is the oldest operational federal penitentiary in Ontario. The main prison is medium security, with a minimum security facility on the same property. In 2014, the prison also opened a 96 bed maximum security unit.

Operationally there were some obvious differences between the Canadian model and the New Zealand model, particularly in regards to incident response (some areas at Collins Bay are covered by officers with firearms, and all corrections officers carry pepper spray). For the most part, however, Collins Bay felt familiar, like facilities here, such as Christchurch, Invercargill, Waikeria and Auckland Prisons.

The Henry Traill Centre is a 40 bed facility operated in Kingston, Ontario. It is a “halfway house” offering accommodation for men primarily on statutory release and long term supervision orders, although it occasionally accommodates offenders on day parole and full parole with residency. The Centre is located on department land next to the Collins Bay Institution.

The offenders residing at the centre are subject to a condition to reside in a Community Correctional Centre or Community Residential Facility. They are typically more violent and higher risk offenders with approximately half of the offenders subject to Long Term Supervision Orders and three quarters of the offenders with a current conviction for a sexual offence.


The contributions from all involved, both in the development of the agenda and the presentations and discussions during the symposium, led to its overall success.

The symposium was very interested in the New Zealand Department of Corrections’ use of on body cameras, and in learning more about our intelligence model.

All delegates agreed that continued dialogue and discussion would be of great value. The opportunity to share issues, innovation and challenges is one that is best realised in person, both within and outside of the formal conference setting.

Commissioner Head indicated a desire for this forum to continue and evolve, and considerations are being given to Hong Kong hosting the next symposium. Additionally, Canada undertook to create an online information sharing platform to enable ongoing discussion and collaboration and this initiative has already started to take shape. This is a great step forward in sharing best practice, supporting our international colleagues and learning from each other. As this forum matures, the benefits to the participating jurisdictions will only increase.