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Inspectorate Report: Humiliation And Degradation Of Women Prisoners

The Prison Inspectorate has issued its Special Investigation: Report into the Management of Three Wāhine at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility [ARWCF]. The investigation was triggered by a complaint on behalf of three of our clients who were being held in conditions amounting to torture and cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment.

  1. The three women exhibited difficult behaviour, which included triggering their sprinklers and non-compliance with instructions. In response, staff at ARWCF placed them in D Wing — spartan cells designed only for short stints of punishment imposed after a disciplinary hearing.
  2. “When the disciplinary process is followed, the maximum time a prisoner could spend in solitary confinement is 15 days,” says lawyer Amanda Hill. “Because these women were arbitrarily placed in D Wing with no process, they spent between 65 and 125 days in unlawful solitary confinement, probably more.”
  3. “After 15 days, the international laws governing the treatment of prisoners — which New Zealand has ratified — say the solitary confinement becomes inhuman and degrading treatment,” says Hill. “This went so far beyond what is acceptable and breached the fundamental rights of these women.”
  4. As if the spirit-breaking solitude was not enough, the Inspector has described the humiliating treatment of the women in D Wing in significant detail.
  5. They were denied food unless they lay on their stomachs with their hands behind their heads. One woman described this as begging for their food.
  6. They were denied toilet paper and sanitary items.
  7. They had to strip their clothing off, sometimes in front of male officers, to get fresh clothes.
  8. They were shown little care. Despite one woman making a serious suicide attempt, she was returned to the same conditions the next day.
  9. “One of the striking things about this situation is that the women used the complaint mechanisms which were supposed to protect them — over and over again,” says Hill. “Staff members ignored or misfiled complaints. Paperwork was routinely incomplete, and the senior management of the prison took no action to change the regime they had implemented in response to the complaints. The women were also failed by the expert team which was supposed to have oversight of their management. Finally, they were failed by the Inspectorate itself, which failed to notice three women sitting in D Wing for months on end. It raises very real questions about the management of ARWCF and the oversight of that management by the entities designed to protect prisoners.”
  10. The Inspectorate report does not address outstanding complaints by the women about the legality of the Cell Buster, which is an issue before the High Court. In addition, each woman has described extreme use of force by staff, unlawful strip searches and a myriad of other issues at ARWCF which still need to be addressed by the Department of Corrections.
  11. “The abuse of these women was perpetrated by every level of the prison system. I don’t agree with the Inspector that this came about due to a failure of experience or oversight. This was deliberate, systemic cruelty designed to break the spirit of these women,” says Hill. “The Department has to explain how it came to torture women who were supposed to be in its care.”


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