Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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HomePoliticalCorrections Accepts Recommendations Following Auckland Prison Inspection

Corrections Accepts Recommendations Following Auckland Prison Inspection


Neil Beales, Deputy
Commissioner:

Corrections acknowledges the release
of the independent Inspectorate’s ‘Special Investigation
– Report into the provision of minimum entitlements and the
operating regime in units 11, 12 and 13 at Auckland
Prison’, conducted between 1 October 2022 and 30 April
2023.

The Inspectorate made three overarching
recommendations following the inspection, all of which have
been accepted in full by Corrections. This will ensure
ongoing monitoring and assurances that minimum entitlements
are being delivered in these units. Every decision we make
is about keeping our prisons safe, but we are committed to
learning from this investigation. We have made a number of
changes to our operations in the maximum security units at
Auckland Prison as a result,
including:

  • implementing regular prisoner surveys
    to seek feedback from prisoners about how they feel things
    are going in their unit, covering areas such as bedding, and
    access to cleaning items and phones. We review the feedback
    and respond to any person where we may be able to address
    any immediate needs. We also collate the feedback so we can
    review trends.
  • introducing a prisoner newsletter to
    keep the men updated and informed of the changes and
    progress we have been making in response to their concerns
    raised in the survey.
  • ordering all new bedding and
    clothing (including two of t-shirts, trackpants, shorts,
    sweat tops each) across the prison to ensure everyone has
    the required items. We now have a robust process in place to
    return bedding and kit as prisoners leave the
    unit.
  • working with our health team to prioritise
    health appointments across the board. If there are any
    issues with access, the Health team now escalate directly to
    the Deputy General Manager in real time.
  • purchasing
    trolleys for units 10-13 that are used to distribute in-cell
    cleaning supplies. We ensure that it remains well stocked
    and is regularly offered.
  • setting up an auditing
    schedule to provide assurances on areas such as health,
    safety, and the environment, security and incidents,
    performance and inspections; and people, performance and
    capability.

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The Inspectorate’s investigation
was conducted in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic
which brought many challenges for Corrections. We were
continuously required to make urgent changes to our standard
operations, which unfortunately included pausing and
restricting a number of prisoner programmes and activities.
As has been widely reported, Corrections also faced
frontline staffing pressures during this time. Due to the
particular impact of these challenges at Auckland Prison,
our Chief Executive asked the Inspectorate to visit these
units and report back.

Auckland Prison is
New Zealand’s only maximum security prison and the
prisoners housed in these units in particular are some of
New Zealand’s most dangerous and difficult to manage
people. Maximum security prisoners have a high propensity
for violence and are known to behave unpredictably and act
without warning, which means a higher number of staff with
more experience are required to carry out daily operations
in these units. Each day, prior to any unlock or movement of
prisoners, staff must assess and manage a range of
operational requirements and risks. This includes which
prisoners can be unlocked together, whether they are
segregated or in the mainstream population, whether there is
a risk of them associating with co-offenders, how many staff
are required to supervise per prisoner, and whether there
are any gang tensions that may pose a risk to the safety of
staff and other prisoners, as well as the security of the
prison. When managing prisoners in maximum security units,
these considerations are heightened, with some of these
prisoners requiring up to five staff each to ensure
everyone’s safety while they are
unlocked.

The safety of staff and
prisoners must be our top priority and given the serious
violent incidents that occur in these units, including
damage to property and an attack that tragically resulted in
the death of another prisoner, we cannot afford to take any
risks. Undertaking this high-risk work within the context of
staffing pressures has been exceptionally difficult for our
frontline staff. The operating environment and the
challenges we’ve experienced in recent years have been
unprecedented, and this has required Corrections to make
some very tough decisions about what activities could and
could not be safely carried out. Every decision we’ve made
has been about making sure Auckland Prison operates safely
and securely.

Our staff have worked hard to protect
and support prisoners’ wellbeing as much as possible, but
we acknowledge there were times that they were not able to
unlock every prisoner every day at Auckland Prison. We fully
acknowledge this has had a significant impact on the men in
these units. We are considering all options available to
provide redress for those people affected by the provision,
or lack of, minimum entitlements at Auckland Prison during
the Inspectorate’s review period. We will also assess on a
case-by-case basis any complaints that are submitted
regarding individual circumstances that have arisen during
this review period at Auckland Prison.

While several
factors impacted our ability to unlock prisoners every day
during this time, it is clear staffing levels were a
significant issue. In response to these challenges, we stood
up a National Coordination Centre (NCC) to gain a nationwide
view of the pressures. The NCC coordinated the immediate
responses required to urgently alleviate pressures on staff
and sites. While the NCC has since closed, work is
continuing to ensure staffing levels across our entire
prison estate remain closely monitored.

Corrections
has been and continues to make a concerted effort to
recruit, retain and train frontline custodial staff. This
includes launching our recruitment campaign, strengthening
recruitment processes, improving onboarding processes,
implementing new rosters which provide staff with better
work/life balance and help them to avoid fatigue, and
continuously working to improve staff safety. We have seen a
strong increase in the number of job applications received
for new Corrections Officers. As at 18 March 2024, we had
received 26,794 applications since 1 October 2022, with
1,356 recruited into Corrections Officer roles.

Since
the investigation we have developed a minimum entitlements
database as an assurance mechanism, and an improved process
for when a declaration of a prison emergency is made, which
includes explicitly considering the ability to continue
offering minimum entitlements.

We acknowledge there is
still some work to do to resume visits in the maximum
security units at Auckland Prison. As staffing levels have
increased at the prison, we have reintroduced visits in all
units except maximum security following careful planning and
consultation. A resumption of visits proposal for these
units is currently at consultation stage with local union
delegates. We appreciate this is very difficult for
prisoners and their families, however, it is critical that
we get this right to keep staff, prisoners, and visitors
safe.

While some of the identified issues within this
report were events specific to Auckland Prison, the lessons
learnt are being taken into account nationally. The Chief
Custodial Officer will lead work in this area to identify
key areas where we need to make changes.

Corrections
is committed to ensuring minimum entitlements are met and
peoples’ rights are upheld, and we will continue our work
to be better prepared for managing exceptional challenges in
the
future.

© Scoop Media

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