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Overhaul Of Prison Legislation

Overhaul Of Prison Legislation

Legislation governing prisons is to be overhauled as part of the government’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

The Corrections Bill introduced into Parliament today will see existing corrections legislation replaced with a simpler, more modern legal framework – a change Acting Corrections Minister Margaret Wilson says is well overdue.

“The corrections system has changed markedly since the current Act was passed in 1954. Current policy and practice in offender management aims to make communities safer and also to reduce re-offending. The law needs to help the Department of Corrections to achieve these aims.”

Margaret Wilson said the new legislation covered administration of community-based sentences and orders, as well as prison administration.

“This Bill is the latest part of the government’s reforms to the criminal justice system. Other legislation in that reform package includes the Sentencing Act, the Parole Act and the Victims’ Rights Act passed last year. All of these measures reflect the government’s commitment to creating a criminal justice system that better protects the public and gives greater recognition to the needs of victims.”

“The Bill is balanced in its approach to promoting public safety. It includes provisions that improve the security of prisons, such as enhanced search powers, while recognising that offenders must be treated with fairness and humanity, in accordance with international standards.”

A purpose clause and a principles clause to govern the operation of the corrections system are included in the new Bill. Margaret Wilson said there was nothing in existing legislation on what principles should guide the administration of sentences and orders.

“The principles clause states that the maintenance of public safety is the paramount consideration in decisions about the management of offenders, and that victims’ interests must be considered. It also emphasises the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.”

The Bill will also see an end to the private management of prisons, reflecting the government’s view that running prisons is a core activity of the State. The change will take effect from 12 July 2005, the expiry date for Australasian Correctional Management Pty Ltd’s contract for managing Auckland Central Remand Prison.

“Prisons by their very nature involve the use of highly coercive powers against individuals. This government believes that it is inappropriate for private sector organisations to wield such powers.”

The Auckland Central Remand Prison is owned by the Corrections Department and would continue to run as it does now but with the Department taking over the management, Margaret Wilson said.

Other changes in the Bill relate to enhancing search powers.

“Despite our best efforts there is still far too much contraband getting into prisons, including drugs and weapons. These enhanced powers should help us stem that problem.”

The Bill will permit regulations to be made authorising the use of non-lethal weapons in prisons, but only where the Minister is satisfied that this is compatible with the humane treatment of prisoners, and that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.

“Current legislation is inconsistent on this matter, with a complete ban on some non lethal weapons, such as tear gas, and no restrictions at all on others, such as batons. The Corrections Bill will create a more consistent approach that includes safeguards against unsafe or inhumane weapons.”

The Bill requires the Department of Corrections to devise individual management plans for all prisoners, and to provide rehabilitative and reintegrative programmes to sentenced prisoners where their sentence plans require, and within the limits of available resources.

Prisoners’ minimum entitlements - currently in regulations - are set out in the Bill which also extends these to meet international standards.

The requirement to have an internal complaints system is elevated from regulations to the Bill, and the coverage of the complaints system is expanded to cover people on community based sentences and orders as well as prisoners. The Office of the Ombudsmen will continue to provide an independent avenue for complaints about the corrections system.

Margaret Wilson said the Corrections Bill had been developed over three years, and had included extensive public consultation. It should also make corrections legislation easier to use, she said.

“This Bill will give us a corrections system for the 21st century. While public safety is the paramount concern the Bill also takes a modern approach to the management, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.”

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