Enhancements transform Office of the Inspectorate

Janis Adair
Chief Inspector, Office of the Inspectorate, Department of Corrections

Author biography:
Janis has been Chief Inspector since July 2017. Born in Northern Ireland, Janis spent seven years as a nurse in the British Army. She then joined the Police and spent 15 years in Hampshire, where she worked in the Criminal Investigation Department, dealing with drug investigations, major crime, and a stint as second-in-charge of the anti-corruption unit. In 2004 she came to New Zealand and has worked for the Commerce Commission, the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Office of the Ombudsman. Before joining Corrections she was in the UK working on the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

Mā te titiro me te whakarongo ka puta mai te māramatanga

By looking and listening, we will gain insight

(Office of the Inspectorate whakataukī)

In early 2017 the Department of Corrections’ Inspectorate was significantly enhanced. It moved from being primarily complaints focused to having a wider mandate, including carrying out inspections of prisons to ensure that prisoners are treated in a fair, safe, secure and humane way. Our work aims to be influential, credible and highly persuasive and ultimately supporting Corrections’ goals of ensuring public safety and reducing re-offending.

The Office of the Inspectorate is a critical part of the independent oversight of the Corrections system, and operates under the Corrections Act 2004 and the Corrections Regulations 2005. It has a team of inspectors who carry out inspections and investigations. The Inspectorate, while part of the Department, is operationally independent which is necessary to ensure objectivity and integrity. Long-established functions of the Inspectorate include the investigation of prisoner complaints that have not been resolved at a lower level, the investigation of all deaths in custody, the review of Visitor Prohibition Orders, and special investigations. Inspectors also investigate complaints from offenders subject to community sentences.


The role of prison inspectors is firmly enshrined in legislation and Office of the Inspectorate staff have a detailed knowledge and understanding of Corrections’ core business while remaining independent of operational business and management. Inspectors have unrestricted access to all staff, facilities, information, documentation, files, records and property under Corrections’ care or control.

New Zealand prisons have had inspectors since 1880, when the first Inspector was appointed in response to concerns about the state of the colony’s prisons. Since then, the role of Inspector has been consistently restated by successive legislation (under various names, such as Visiting Justices and Inspectors of Penal Institutions). When the Department of Corrections was established as separate from the Department of Justice in 1995, the Inspectorate became part of the Department of Corrections.

The Office of the Ombudsman also handles complaints from prisoners, is formally advised about investigations into deaths in custody and serious incidents involving prisoners, and carries out its own programme of prison inspections.

The environment in which prison services are delivered in New Zealand has seen rapid, fundamental change in recent years. The number of prisoners has increased to levels not seen before, straining capacity and requiring the expansion of some facilities and more use of double bunking. New Zealand’s prisons are arguably subject to more public and political interest and scrutiny than at any time in history. The report into allegations of organised prisoner on prisoner fighting at the Mount Eden Corrections Facility thrust the Inspectorate into the public arena in a way that had not happened before.

Changes to the Inspectorate

These developments and their impact on the risk profile of prison services have changed expectations of the Inspectorate. Although its core focus remains – of carrying out investigations and reviewing complaints as set out in the Corrections Act 2004 – a need was identified for a cycle of risk-based, in-depth, “free, frank and fearless” prison reviews. These reviews are intended to provide greater assurance that prisoners are being treated fairly, safely and humanely, and that emerging risks and good practice are identified early.

The Inspectorate Enhancement Project, initiated by the Department of Corrections, included a new prison inspection framework, strengthened transparency and accountability arrangements, increased Inspectorate staffing and funding, and signalled more open communication. The new Chief Inspector was appointed and staffing was increased, both in number and skill base, to reflect the new functions. The Office of the Inspectorate was repositioned within Corrections to sit within the Office of the Chief Executive, so it was separate from the operational side of the Department.

The Inspectorate has developed a performance framework, setting out our vision, mission, values, priorities and action areas. To hold ourselves to account we have adopted performance measures, based on the timeliness of our reporting, which will be included in the Annual Report. We have adopted the values of respect, integrity, professionalism, objectivity and diversity to guide and inform our work.

Prison inspections

The new prison inspection framework was based on research into international and national best practice. The operations of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in the United Kingdom (HMIP UK), Queensland Corrective Services, and the Western Australia Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services were reviewed. The Department also consulted other New Zealand government agencies that perform similar types of inspections, including New Zealand’s Education Review Office (ERO).

The prison inspection programme involves an inspection at each of the 18 prisons across the country within a 20-month time frame. Prisons are assessed against a “Healthy Prisons” framework, based on the UN’s original Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The Office of the Inspectorate has updated the framework to meet the standards of the new UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted by the General Assembly in December 2015 and known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules”.

Prison performance is assessed under four guiding principles:

  • Safety: Prisoners are held safely.
  • Respect: Prisoners are treated with respect for human dignity.
  • Rehabilitation: Prisoners are able, and expect, to engage in activity that is likely to benefit them.
  • Reintegration: Prisoners are prepared for release into the community, and helped to reduce their likelihood of re-offending.

The four principles reflect that the purpose of the prison system is to protect society from crime, both during imprisonment and after release, and they also highlight the potentially competing demands that are often placed on prison staff and management. As well as four principles, the healthy prison standards require inspectors to consider nine specific areas of prison life: reception and admission, first days in custody, escorts and transfers, good order, duty of care, environment, health, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

The prison inspections are intended to provide a robust, strength-based, risk-driven “window into prisons”. They will identify innovation and good practice and give early warning of emerging risks and themes. The reports are written to broadly focus on the prisoners’ journey – from arrival in prison through to rehabilitation and release.

In 2017, inspections were carried at Manawatu, Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Waikeria, Invercargill, Auckland South, Rimutaka and Spring Hill prisons. So far this year, inspections have been carried out at Mt Eden, Northland, Otago, Tongariro, Christchurch Women’s and Christchurch Men’s prisons. The reports are published on the Inspectorate website for reasons of transparency and to promote trust and confidence in the Inspectorate. The first two inspection reports (into Manawatu Prison and Auckland Prison) were released publicly in February 2018 – a milestone for the Inspectorate – and the third one (Waikeria Prison) in May

Death in custody investigations

The process for investigations into deaths in custody has also been updated. All deaths in custody in New Zealand prisons are investigated by the Office of the Inspectorate and the reports to the Chief Executive are submitted as evidence at a subsequent Coronial inquiry.

Investigations of deaths in custody are proportionate to the circumstances of each case. Comprehensive investigations are carried out into unnatural deaths and those where serious concerns have been raised. Natural deaths are generally investigated with a focus on the adequacy of access to, and the provision of, medical care. Investigations are informed by health and other experts, as required.

The Office of the Inspectorate now proactively contacts the nominated contact of each person who dies in custody, setting out the Inspectorate’s role in investigating the death and reporting to the Coroner. The family is kept updated about the investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, the next of kin can request a copy of the report which is released subject to the Coroner’s approval and the Official Information Act.

What next?

Along with the new responsibilities comes a changed ethos in the Office of the Inspectorate, and more visibility and accessibility. With a wider focus, the Inspectorate aims to demonstrably add value to Corrections’ assurance processes. By taking a broader lens over the operation of prisons in particular, the Inspectorate aims to lift awareness about what is happening at sites and work in partnership with the Department to bring about continuous improvement.

The long-term aim of lifting and sustaining standards and strengthening the rehabilitation pathway, is to help promote a prison system which has more engaged prisoners, a reduced potential for violence and a reduction in re-offending.