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Repeat Recommendations And Desolate Conditions Among Concerns In Christchurch Men’s And Whanganui Prison Inspections

Inspections of two prisons by the Ombudsman have highlighted repeat recommendations not being met and the undignified and barren conditions of prisons.

Other concerns include the continuing use of force in one prison unit, and a transgender prisoner being referred to by staff in a derogatory manner.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says the issues show the apparent lack of progress by Corrections to improve treatment and conditions in prisons.

Mr Boshier today published two reports following unannounced follow-up inspections of Christchurch Men’s Prison in February 2020 and Whanganui Prison in September 2020.

Both inspections were carried out under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989.

"It is disappointing that both inspections showed a high number of recommendations I made during my previous visits had either not been achieved at all or only partially achieved," Mr Boshier says.

"The apparent inertia that seems to afflict Corrections in implementing change adds to my frustration at the glacial pace of progress in improving conditions and treatment for prisoners and undermines public confidence in the Department.

"It is findings like this that have driven, in part, my decision to carry out a systemic and wide-ranging investigation into why recommendations for improvements made by myself and other agencies do not appear to have been effectively addressed or are taking too long to achieve."

In his inspection of Christchurch Men’s Prison last year, the Chief Ombudsman found that of the 54 recommendations made in 2017, 27 had not been achieved and only 12 partially achieved.

Mr Boshier made 26 repeat recommendations and one new recommendation around the general treatment and conditions of prisoners, following his 2020 inspection.

Although a recommendation that the Department carry out an investigation into the prevalence of the use of force in the prison’s Intensive Supervision Unit (ISU) was achieved, the Chief Ombudsman said he remained concerned about the high number of such incidents in the unit.

"My inspectors observed footage where multiple staff used force on vulnerable prisoners to gain compliance, despite little risk to staff or the prisoner being evident," Mr Boshier says.

"I have made the repeat amended recommendation that the prison director takes action to reduce the incidence of force in the ISU."

In relation to Whanganui Prison, of the 35 recommendations made following an inspection in 2018, inspectors found in September last year that 20 had not been achieved or only partially achieved.

As a result, 13 repeat recommendations and one new recommendation were made following the 2020 visit.

"Of particular concern is that among my recommendations to Whanganui Prison in 2018 was that staff awareness of LGBTQI+ issues was raised. Although Corrections has developed a strategy and training to address this, I consider more work and awareness of LGBTQI+ issues is needed," Mr Boshier says.

"Derogatory language was used by some staff when speaking to my inspectors in relation to a transgender detainee. Misgendering, deadnaming and any other forms of dehumanising and derogatory language in relation to transgender people is unacceptable."

Mr Boshier also highlighted the use of "dry cells" as alternative accommodation for at-risk prisoners as a practice that should be halted immediately.

"Dry cells are a desolate and barren environment for prisoners who are already vulnerable.

I do not consider it is ever appropriate to put at-risk individuals into cells that have no toilets and no drinking water."

There were, however, many positive observations made by the Chief Ombudsman’s inspectors in relation to both prisons, including a reduction in double-bunking at Whanganui Prison and improved interaction between prisoners and staff at Christchurch Men’s Prison, Mr Boshier says.

Read the reports here:

- Report on an announced follow up inspection of Whanganui Prison under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989

- Report on an unannounced follow up inspection of Christchurch Men’s Prison under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989


Editor’s note

New Zealand signed up to the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in 2007.

The Chief Ombudsman is a ‘National Preventive Mechanism’ (NPM) under OPCAT, meaning he monitors prisons and other places of detention (like health and disability facilities) to ensure they meet international human rights.

The Chief Ombudsman’s focus is on making sure prisons have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent any human rights violations. If not, he recommends practical improvements to address any risks, poor practices, or systemic problems that could result in a prisoner being treated badly. Follow up inspections are conducted to look for progress in implementing previous recommendations. Reports are written on what is observed at the time of inspection.

The inspections carried out under OPCAT come under a different function to that of the systemic investigation into Corrections announced recently. But information gathered in the inspections has helped inform the reasoning for the Corrections investigation.

Systemic improvement investigations are undertaken after a thorough scoping of the issues. The investigation process is governed by the Ombudsmen Act and largely works the same way as any other Ombudsman investigation.

Find out more about the Chief Ombudsman’s role in examining and monitoring places of detention, and read our other OPCAT reports, at www.ombudsman.parliament.nz

You can also follow us on Facebook: @ombudsmannz or Twitter: @Ombudsman_NZ

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