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Corrections Accused of Cover Up over New Torture Reports

The prisoner advocacy organisation No Pride in Prisons is “outraged” by what it sees as an attempt by the Department of Corrections to avoid transparency and undermine the Official Information Act (OIA).

The Department of Corrections recently released 9 more Crime of Torture Act reports on New Zealand prisons, commonly known as “torture reports”. The release comes after 4 “torture reports” were provided to the New Zealand Herald in December 2016.

“Our chief researcher Ti Lamusse requested all these reports more than 7 months ago under the Official Information Act.” says No Pride in Prisons spokesperson Emilie Rākete.

In an OIA response sent in January, Corrections stated that there were “more than 50 reports” of this nature. “The fact that Corrections chose to release only 9 reports demonstrates its utter disrespect for government transparency,” says Rākete.

“To make matters worse, Corrections did not inform Lamusse that the reports had been released. Instead, Corrections decided to hide the reports in a difficult-to-find place on its website.”

“Corrections has tried very hard to make itself seem transparent by putting a “press release” about the reports on its website. It is, however, clear that Corrections failed to actually send this “press release” to the media.”

“This is a cover up, plain and simple. Corrections is clearly embarrassed by the content of the “torture reports.” It has decided to release only the 9 reports that it thinks paint it in the best light.”

“Even the few reports that Corrections has released demonstrate a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of incarcerated people.”

“In multiple reports, Inspectors found that prisoners felt threatened by guards not to complain, meaning few prisoners use the complaints system or have faith in it.”

“The reports detail appalling conditions in solitary confinement cells, also known as directed segregation or separates cells. Solitary confinement is an inhumane practice.”

“Violence in New Zealand prisons is rampant and unmanaged by Corrections. 68% of prisoners at Rimutaka said they had been victimised by another prisoner, and 30% felt unsafe at the time.”

“Corrections continues to deny the epidemic of sexual violence in New Zealand prisons. A survey of Rolleston prisoners found 6% of prisoners had been sexually assaulted in prison.”

“The reports released represent only a small fraction of the degrading and inhumane practices in New Zealand prisons.”

No Pride in Prisons is calling for the release of all “torture reports” immediately. “The cover up has to end now. It is time New Zealand learns the truth about our prison system.”

Key findings of the reports

Waikeria Prison’s West North & West South Units 2011:

• The Ombudsman finds there was a prisoner on segregation who was denied basic rights, including the right to one hour of exercise daily

• The separates (punishment) cells were inadequate, with 6 cells lacking natural light and 3 cells lacking a toilet

Auckland Men’s Prison 2011:

• Parts of the prison were filthy, with rotting garbage scattered around the yard

• In one unit, there was what appeared to be “sewage” on the landing which hadn’t been cleaned up. The Ombudsman finds that “the failure to have the mess cleaned up creates an on-going health and safety risk to both staff and prisoners”

• Prisoners in one unit were generally unable to access their right to one hour of exercise daily due to a lack of shelter in the yards

Tongariro Cedar Units One and Two 2012

• The Ombudsman finds prisoners have no faith in the complaints system. She finds “some prisoners suggested that prisoners who complained were then transferred, or threatened with a transfer”

Rimutaka Prison Upper Prison – Units three and four 2012

• Ombudsman: Some cells do not have curtains, and “prisoners complained that the security lighting keeps them awake at night”

• Prisoners expressed concerns over complaints system:

Ombudsman: “Of the 75 per cent who had not made a complaint, 68 per cent said there was no point complaining because staff would threaten to transfer them to another prison or take them off segregation”

88% in a prisoner survey felt complaints were not dealt with fairly

• Ombudsman: “Many mattresses observed by the Visiting Team were substandard and needed replacing. Some prisoners were using more than one mattress to compensate for their compressed one”

• 11% of prisoners were unable to shower every day

• 30% of prisoners said they felt unsafe at the prison at the time

• 68% of prisoners said they had been victimised by another prisoner at Rimutaka

• Healthcare:

72% of prisoners said it was difficult to see a doctor
64% of prisoners said it was difficult to see a dentist

Auckland Prison Directed Segregation Facilities 2012

• The Ombudsman finds that the punishment area was unsuitable “for prisoners undergoing a period of segregation or cell confinement.”

Arohata Prison 2012

• The Ombudsman finds that some women prisoners were required to shower in the open air, potentially under camera surveillance.

• Ombudsman: “requiring a prisoner to shower in the open air, whilst potentially being observed on camera, is inappropriate and could amount to degrading treatment.”

Hawke’s Bay Regional Prisoner’s High Medium H unit, the Receiving Office and the Separates Area 2012

• There was a lack of privacy for prisoners using the toilet in double-bunked cells

• Ombudsman: “the area set aside for the conduct of strip-searches is woefully inadequate and does not provide the required level of privacy. Privacy screening is in the form of a black plastic sheet.”

Rolleston Prison 2016

• Prisoners in separates cells were monitored by camera and could be observed using the toilet area from TV monitors in the unit offices.

• Ombudsman: “I consider prison staff (and others) having the ability to observe prisoners, either directly or through camera footage undertaking their ablutions or in various stages of undress to amount to degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture”

• Ombudsman: “The separates facilities are not fit for purpose and should be decommissioned”

• Ombudsman: “The separates facilities are dark and drab and not fit for purpose. Cells have limited ventilation and can be generally described as grim. While there is some natural light, windows are located above the doors and not accessible. Prisoners are required to eat their meals on the floor next to the open toilet.”

• The prisoner survey finds that 24% of prisoners didn’t have enough clean and suitable clothes each week

• Healthcare:

Ombudsman: “Adequate dental provision was not available”
Ombudsman: “The waiting list for the dentist is approximately four months.”

• The Ombudsman is not satisfied that prisoners undergoing cell confinement were receiving their basic rights, including to one hour exercise daily

• Prisoners did not have faith in the complaints system:

71% of prisoners said complaints were not dealt with fairly
74% did not have faith in the complaints system

Ombudsman: “Comments received by questionnaire respondents indicate that there was fear among prisoners that filing a complaint would lead to repercussions (e.g. loss of privileges or transfer to another site)”

• 13% of prisoners said they were unable to shower every day

• 22% of prisoners said they had felt unsafe in Rolleston Prison

• 18% of prisoners said they had been victimised by another prisoner in Rolleston Prison

• 6% of prisoners said they had been sexually assaulted in prison

• 13% of prisoners said they didn’t receive one hour of fresh air daily

ENDS


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