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Follow up inspection finds improvements at Otago Corrections Facility

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The Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier has released his report of a follow up inspection of Otago Corrections Facility (OCF).

Mr Boshier says the OCF has implemented, or has started implementing two-thirds of the recommendations made in May 2016.

“There have been some significant improvements to OCF’s record keeping and associated processes, particularly relating to the segregation of prisoners and the use of force.”

However the Chief Ombudsman also identifies areas of concern as being the lack of clarity around what behavioural changes are required for a prisoner to progress from a high security environment to a lower security unit, the long periods of time that voluntary segregated prisoners are being held in their cells, and the lack of a dedicated youth unit.

He also notes an apparent rise in tension within the prison since the last inspection.

“I have found that incidents of threatening behaviour and violence are higher than a year ago, and a high use of pepper spray. My Inspectors also found an increasing number of prisoners have no local whānau support, having been transferred to OCF from outside of the region.”

Mr Boshier says the attitudes of some prison staff were also of concern.

Mr Boshier has repeated seven of his previous recommendations and made two new ones, with the aim of further improving the mental health and privacy of prisoners.

The Department of Corrections has agreed to resolve the issues the Chief Ombudsman has raised following his 28 January – 1 February 2019 inspection.

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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 practises, 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.

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