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Independent review of prisoner mail management released

Thursday 14 November 2019

Independent review of prisoner mail management released

The independent review into the prisoner mail system has today been released, with Corrections accepting all 13 recommendations and making a number of changes to strengthen the management of prisoner mail.

“We estimate around 15,000 items of mail are sent to and from prisoners each week. It is a fine balance to uphold our lawful obligation to meet prisoners’ statutory entitlements while mitigating the potential risks posed by prisoners who may wish to cause harm to others,” Chief Executive Christine Stevenson says.

“In August, following the publication of a number of letters by prisoners, including the Christchurch accused, I made it clear that I did not have confidence in our existing processes for reviewing and assessing prisoners’ mail. I called for an immediate review into this practice.”

“I want to again reiterate my unreserved apology for the distress these letters have caused.

“I am confident the changes we are making as a result of the review will reduce the ability for mail sent and received to cause harm or distress, either directly or indirectly, to anyone,” Christine Stevenson says.

Conducted by Miriam Dean CNZM QC and Grant O’Fee MNZM, the review found that while incoming mail processes work reasonably well, there are too many individuals involved in outgoing mail processes and some prisons are not well resourced to manage this work given the sheer volume of mail. It also found some improvements in the legislation and regulations governing this area that could be made.

A comprehensive action plan to address all 13 of the review’s recommendations has been developed, with a number of changes already underway. These include:

• Carrying out regular audits of mail processes, including how staff make decisions to withhold or release mail;
• Setting up dedicated mail-monitoring teams to open, read and withhold mail in one seamless process;
• Providing staff with interim guidelines on scanning and withholding mail, gang mail and content of a sexual nature;
• Ensuring outgoing envelopes are identified as prisoner mail and contain contact details for recipients to contact Corrections if they do not want to receive mail from the prisoner; and
• Providing prisoners with practical guidance on mail processes, and improving our complaints process by creating a specific category for mail complaints.

Additional changes to be made include:

• Providing advice to the Minister on legislative changes, including changes regarding the reading, copying and storing of mail;
• Preparing new manual guidelines that are clear, concise and take staff step by step through mail processes;
• Training mail teams using face-to-face workshops, as well as e-based learning; and
• Creating a new module on prisoners’ communications in the training programme for new recruits.

The mail of prisoners who have been identified with potential extremist ideologies and/or registered victims continues to be centralised until we have confidence the new process is working as intended.

“Public safety is paramount in every decision we make, and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to ensure we have the right skills, capability and experience to continually assess any threat that any prisoner or their correspondence poses,” Christine Stevenson says.

Anyone with concerns about receiving unwanted mail from prisoners can call our 0800 number (0800 345 006) or email mailcomplaints@corrections.govt.nz.

The full review is available here. A timeline for implementing the review’s recommendations is also available here.

ENDS

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