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Rehabilitation Opportunities Must Be Increased To Avoid The Risk Of Breaching International Obligations, Says Ombudsman

The Chief Ombudsman is calling on the Department of Corrections to urgently introduce more rehabilitation opportunities for people held under Public Protection Orders (PPOs) to avoid the risk of breaching international human rights obligations.

Peter Boshier today released his first report on New Zealand’s only civil detention facility for PPOs - Matawhāiti - located in the grounds of Christchurch Men’s prison.

PPOs are granted by the High Court in rare cases to people who have served a prison sentence for a serious sexual or violent offences and are highly likely to offend again.

They must live in a secure residence and their PPO status must be reviewed regularly. The intention of a PPO is to protect the public rather than impose further punishment.

‘Residents are not prisoners and they may, at some stage, live again in the community,’ says Mr Boshier. ‘It is in our best interests to prepare Matawhāiti’s residents for this, and reduce the risk to public safety.’

‘I have no concerns about quality of accommodation and I was impressed by the calm atmosphere and the rapport between staff and residents. But I do have concerns that residents are not being offered enough opportunities to rehabilitate.’

‘People who are being held by the state for any reason have rights in both domestic and international law, including the residents of Matawhāiti. My job is to determine whether they’re being treated in accordance with those rights, and that includes their entitlement to rehabilitative treatment.’

Mr Boshier says the recent increase in the number of rehabilitative sessions available was promising but says more is needed, and on a permanent basis.

‘I acknowledge that not all residents will consent to participate in rehabilitative treatment, and that the residence cannot, and should not, force them to do so.’

Mr Boshier also highlighted that the residence’s practice of not allowing residents supervised leave, for rehabilitation or humanitarian reasons, is unacceptable.

‘Residents may be granted leave of absence to attend medical appointments, court proceedings, and for rehabilitative or humanitarian purposes. But I found that escorted visits into the community for rehabilitative or humanitarian purposes had not been allowed.’

‘I note that the High Court recently observed that detention on prison grounds without rehabilitation may mean a PPO operates like a penalty. I agree.’

PPOs can be permanent or interim, but all must be examined annually by a Review Panel.

‘I was disturbed to learn that the Review Panel had been raising the same concerns about the level of rehabilitation programmes and treatment for the past three years. I share the Panel’s concerns. I also expect the Panel’s recommendations to be implemented in a timely manner, otherwise the rationale of the Act is undermined.’

‘I am pleased that the Department of Corrections has agreed to eight of my 10 recommendations for improvement, including improving rehabilitation opportunities at the facility.’

Matawhāiti opened in 2017. At the time of the February 2020 inspection, it had three residents, one on a permanent PPO and two on interim PPOs.

The Ombudsman’s report can be found here.

The Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Act 2014 is available from http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2014/0068/latest/DLM4751015.html

More about the Chief Ombudsman’s OPCAT monitoring programme is available from https://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/what-we-can-help/monitoring-places-detention

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