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Improvements to be made to prison complaints

Hon Phil Goff Minister of Justice

5 May 2005

Improvements to be made to prison complaints system

Improvements will be made in systems to maintain minimum standards and prevent abuses in prisons, says Minister of Justice Phil Goff.

Mr Goff today released a review of prisoner complaints processes, which he commissioned from the Ministry of Justice late last year.

"This review needs to be seen alongside the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill, reported back to Parliament today," Mr Goff said.

"The goal of both exercises is to uphold standards so that the payment of compensation to inmates does not arise. The best way to do that is to prevent or minimize any abuses that could give rise to such claims.

"If the system does fail, and any compensation payments have to be made, the Bill ensures that justice is done for victims by giving them first claim against any payment made to the person who offended against them.

"The review found that with the contribution of the inspectors and Ombudsmen, the complaints system overall can be relied on to identify most breaches. However the internal complaints system was not as effective as intended.

"Many inmates effectively circumvent the process by complaining directly to inspectors or Ombudsmen, who are only supposed to be involved as a last resort. Inspectors and the Ombudsmen are both receiving around 2500 complaints per year. Only a few of those complaints are found to be justified. "The Ombudsmen have also expressed concern about the responsiveness of Corrections in helping them resolve complaints.

Corrections Minister Paul Swain joined Mr Goff in welcoming the report. "The Corrections Act 2004, and new regulations that come into force on 1 June, are designed to improve the internal complaints process. A revised protocol around the Ombudsmen's role will also address the concerns raised around timeliness of the Department of Corrections' responses."

"I will be asking the new Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections, Barry Matthews, to address the issues raised in this report. I will be expecting the Department to report significant progress by the end of November," Mr Swain said.

Mr Goff said the Ombudsmen were also undertaking an investigation that covered prisoner complaints processes, and their report, due in December, could also lead to improvements in how Corrections worked with them.

"However, should the changes not achieve an outcome where the system can be relied on to prevent, or quickly address, serious breaches, consideration will be given to a new independent prisons complaints body. Justice officials have been asked to undertake preliminary work on how such a body would operate.

Mr Goff welcomed the Select Committee's report back on the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill.

"The Bill will restrict compensation for inmates. Compensation should be restricted to exceptional cases, and only after reasonable use has been made of existing complaint procedures. In the unusual case that compensation is paid, the legislation will ensure that the victims of the offenders are able to claim against that money for compensation that might be due to them.

"However the best way to stop prisoners receiving compensation is to ensure they are treated consistently with the minimum standards of care set out in legislation. In the event of a potential breach, the matter must be dealt with quickly and effectively before reaching the point of warranting compensation.

"I also welcome the recommendation that the Select Committee conduct an inquiry into whether support and assistance for the families of homicide victims is adequate and effective. This is consistent with this government's commitment to enhancing the rights of victims," Mr Goff said.

ENDS

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