Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Ombudsman 'discouraged' from accessing prisons amidst Covid-19 lockdown concerns

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says Corrections has discouraged him from accessing prisons, despite the fact he has a statutory monitoring role and is concerned about inmates enduring extended lockdown hours during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Boshier told RNZ that after spending a lot of time working through the issues with Corrections, his staff would begin a series of visits to 15 prisons and other detention centres from next week.

The visits follow a series of RNZ reports that revealed, during the pandemic, prisoners were being confined to their cells for more than 22 hours a day - a level that meets the UN definition of solitary confinement.

Boshier said Corrections hadn't gone as far as blocking him from doing his job but had certainly discouraged him.

"A major concern I've got is that we have not been able to get into prisons until recently to have a look and see," he said.

"I received a letter from Corrections which really was quite discouraging of my continuing role because of the risk of infection and what might occur in prisons. And so it's taken me some time to work through it with Corrections and come to a point where we can perform our role properly."

He said most of the complaints he had received from prisoners during the pandemic were related to extended lockdown hours. The Corrections Association, the union which represents Corrections officers, told RNZ that most prisons were in lockdown between 21 and 23 hours a day.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis refused requests from Amnesty International to release the lockdown hours for the last month and Boshier said he had also been unable to get solid information from Corrections.

"From the data Corrections has given me and that we've analysed, it's incomplete and insufficient for me to be able to conclude that the allegations [about lockdown hours] are wrong," he said.

"That's a very carefully (worded) statement by me. I'm not saying it's verified. I'm saying nothing I've seen satisfies me at the moment that there might not be a problem. And that's why we've got to get in and have a look."

He said it was understandable that Corrections had adopted a conservative position at the outset but it had held up his work.

Boshier said it wasn't enough to rely on the word of the Department of Corrections alone.

"What the public wants from a watchdog is not someone who just relies on a self report," he said. "I don't think my role can ever be constitutionally performed by me not finding out for myself."

Prisons have used the extended lockdown hours to manage physical distancing during the pandemic but Boshier said that was not sustainable in the longer term.

"I think we've got to move rapidly in the direction of achieving what the Crimes of Torture Convention requires as minimum humane standards for prisoners," he said. "It's not just New Zealand which is looking at this - it has been the subject of international scrutiny in the last month."

Davis defended his department's strategy in response to questions from RNZ this week, saying health and safety was the top priority.

"We are yet to have a confirmed case of Covid-19 in our prisons. If we remain vigilant, if we continue to go hard, we will have the best chance at keeping it out, something other countries around the world have struggled to do."

He said no one prison was operating a site-wide 23-hour lockdown though he conceded extended lockdowns were in place. He would not give specifics.

Davis said the chief executive of Corrections would facilitate statutory visits from the Office of the Ombudsman where they could be done safely.

He said while visits from lawyers were banned, prisoners could still access legal counsel by phone, video link and email.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Eric Zuesse: U.S. Empire: Biden And Kerry Gave Orders To Ukraine’s President

Eric Zuesse, originally posted at Strategic Culture On May 19th, an implicit international political warning was issued, but it wasn’t issued between countries; it was issued between allied versus opposed factions within each of two countries: U.S. and Ukraine. ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Budget Cockups In The Time Of Coronavirus: Reporting Errors And Australia’s JobKeeper Scheme

Hell has, in its raging fires, ringside seats for those who like their spreadsheets. The seating, already peopled by those from human resources, white collar criminals and accountants, becomes toastier for those who make errors with those spreadsheets. ... More>>

The Dig - COVID-19: Just Recovery

The COVID-19 crisis is compelling us to kick-start investment in a regenerative and zero-carbon future. We were bold enough to act quickly to stop the virus - can we now chart a course for a just recovery? More>>

The Conversation: Are New Zealand's New COVID-19 Laws And Powers Really A Step Towards A Police State?

Reaction to the New Zealand government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdown has ranged from high praise to criticism that its actions were illegal and its management chaotic. More>>

Keith Rankin: Universal Versus Targeted Assistance, A Muddled Dichotomy

The Commentariat There is a regular commentariat who appear on places such as 'The Panel' on Radio New Zealand (4pm on weekdays), and on panels on television shows such as Newshub Nation (TV3, weekends) and Q+A (TV1, Mondays). Generally, these panellists ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Welcome Deaths: Coronavirus And The Open Plan Office

For anybody familiar with that gruesome manifestation of the modern work place, namely the open plan office, the advent of coronavirus might be something of a relief. The prospects for infection in such spaces is simply too great. You are at risk from ... More>>

Caitlin Johnstone: Do You Consent To The New Cold War?

The world's worst Putin puppet is escalating tensions with Russia even further, with the Trump administration looking at withdrawal from more nuclear treaties in the near future. In addition to planning on withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Why Thinking Makes It So: Donald Trump’s Obamagate Fixation

The “gate” suffix has been wearing thin since the break-in scandal that gave it its birth. Since Watergate, virtually anything dubious and suggestive, and much more besides, is suffixed. Which brings us to the issue of President Donald Trump’s ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Ethics (and Some Of The Economics) Of Lifting The Lockdown

As New Zealand passes the half-way mark towards moving out of Level Four lockdown, the trade-offs involved in life-after-lockdown are starting to come into view. All very well for National’s finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith to claim that “The number one priority we have is to get out of the lockdown as soon as we can”…Yet as PM Jacinda Ardern pointed out a few days ago, any crude trade-off between public health and economic well-being would be a false choice... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Brutal Choices: Anders Tegnell And Sweden’s Herd Immunity Goal

If the title of epidemiological czar were to be created, its first occupant would have to be Sweden’s Anders Tegnell. He has held sway in the face of sceptics and concern that his “herd immunity” approach to COVID-19 is a dangerous, and breathtakingly ... More>>


  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog