Minister orders Corrections overhaul

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has ordered the Department of Corrections to immediately improve processes, including the complaints system, and overhaul the management of women in prison, to ensure prisoners are treated in a way that fulfils the aims of the new strategy Hōkai Rangi.  

The Minister has received advice and evidence on incidents that took place at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility (ARWCF) between 2019 and 2020, and has today outlined his expectations in a letter to the Chief Executive of Corrections.

“I’m taking this situation very seriously. At the outset I sought further information from Corrections, received advice from the Attorney-General around concerns I had and have now reviewed the Chief Inspector’s preliminary findings,” Mr Davis said. 

“The failings highlighted in the Chief Inspector’s report are unacceptable. The lack of oversight and leadership has had a major impact on prisoners,” he said.

“I want and expect better from Corrections. I expect Corrections and, in particular, its leadership to act urgently to make these changes.”

The Minister’s expected actions include: 

  • That Corrections accepts the recommendations provided by the Chief Inspector.
  • A detailed plan outlining how Corrections will address systemic issues raised about ARWCF, with a staff member from the Chief Inspector’s Office allocated to oversee implementation for 12 months.
  • An urgent overhaul of the maximum security classification for women, the development of management plans for women and a review of all women’s prisons.
  • That Corrections review parts of the Prison Operations Manual and relevant Regulations that relate to areas of concern mentioned by the Chief Inspector.
  • That additional training is provided to frontline custodial staff with a focus on use of force, segregation, use of cells and searches, and management of difficult situations.
  • An external team to review the complaints process, with the Chief Inspector to allocate more staff to oversee the complaints process at each prison site.

Mr Davis said the Chief Inspector found no evidence of deliberate cruelty from staff and that, overall, staff lacked proper oversight and guidance.

The Minister also said a separate Inspectorate report for ARWCF released in January acknowledges the recent appointment of a Prison Director and others into key senior positions and expresses confidence that strong new leadership will help ensure the prison is better equipped to deliver a high quality service.

“Corrections Officers deal with some of New Zealand’s most challenging people, many with serious behavioural issues. They risk their personal safety on a daily basis and that is why I have directed Corrections to do further work on keeping staff safe from harm,” Mr Davis said.

“I believe the actions and responses included in my directions to the Department today will go some way in helping to address these issues,” he said.

“It is appropriate now that Corrections apologise to the women involved. 

“As the Minister, I will also apologise for the harm caused, given the system I am responsible for failed to treat them in line with what is right, what is good and what is promised in Hōkai Rangi.”

A progress report will be provided to the Minister by the end of August 2021.