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High Court Warns Corrections That Prisoner Release ‘May Need To Be Considered’ If Staffing Crisis Isn’t Resolved

High Court Warns Corrections That Prisoner Release ‘May Need To Be Considered’ If Staffing Crisis Isn’t Resolved; Orders Corrections To Reverse Its Unlawful Decisions For The Women Of Arohata

1. The High Court has today issued its judgment setting out what Corrections must do to remedy the unlawful decisions it made last September, in transferring sentenced women out of Arohata and turning the prison into what was in effect a remand centre.

2. This judgment follows the High Court decision in August this year, which upheld the challenge by the women, finding that the decisions to close Arohata to sentenced women and transfer those women away to other prisons was unlawful and discriminatory on the basis of sex, in breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. The women had sought urgent interim orders from the Court in September 2022 to stop the transfers, but those were declined.

3. Corrections has been ordered to review the circumstances of all sentenced women transferred out of Arohata since August 2022, and reconsider the placement of those who ought to be housed in this location. The Judge has made it clear that ‘resourcing constraints’ is not a justification for the unlawfulness and discrimination experienced by these women, and that this must be fixed. The Judge also recorded that if Corrections had been fully candid with the Court back in September 2022 'it is possible that interim orders might have been granted.’

4. Critically, the Court has also ordered that Corrections must take into account the interests of these women’s children. Lawyer Amanda Hill says this is a major victory for these applicants and for other prisoners with children, as Corrections so far has not even gathered any data on which prisoners have children in the community. Now the law is clear that they not only have to know how transfers like this are affecting families, they have to give that real consideration.

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5. “This is a real win for women who are serving sentences who need to be near their kids, their elderly parents and their wider whānau” says King’s Counsel Victoria Casey . “It is also a clear direction to Corrections that its lack of staff is not an excuse for breaking the law. If women need to be returned to Arohata to be near their children, then Corrections simply has to find the staff and resourcing to make that happen”.

6. The Court also directed Corrections to reconsider its staffing decisions in relation to Arohata, but only after the fresh decisions about women who are eligible to return have been made. “This means that the future of Arohata will be determined by the women who need to be there, rather than the staff Corrections decides to retain there” says lawyer Amanda Hill.

7. “The decision not only gives women the chance to return to Arohata, it also confirms that they can go on to seek compensation from Corrections for the discrimination they have experienced” says Hill. ”The longer Corrections takes to fix this, the bigger the possible financial burden will be”.

8. “While the Court did not place a deadline on Corrections to identify the women and make fresh decisions, it was clear that it needed to happen very soon. In the meantime, the discrimination against women in the prison system continues” says Hill.

9. The High Court also expressed concern with other issues of unlawfulness in Correction’s operations that were disclosed by the evidence, and warned that if the current problems with prison capacity continue, measures such as directing the early release of prisoners ‘may need to be considered’.

Full decision: https://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/wallace-v-chief-executive-of-the-department-of-corrections

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