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Investigation of the Department of Corrections in relation to the detention and treatment of prisoners

Prisoners / Corrections
Ombudsmen Act 1975
John Belgrave,
Mel Smith
Issue date:

This investigation arose from concerns about whether prisoners are treated in the New Zealand corrections system with fairness and humanity, and in accordance with law.

We reiterate that we did not begin with any underlying assumption that matters were seriously amiss.  Nevertheless, it is a likely outcome of any investigation such as this that the eventual report will emphasise any areas where the authors consider that departmental performance may be improved.  It is therefore apposite to stress that it would be unfair to conclude from the limited number of criticisms that we have made in this report that the Department is failing in a wide sense to carry out its many disparate functions in an appropriate fashion.  In other words, our criticisms should not be construed as going further than their plain meaning.

A major concern is the conflict between the understanding of National Office of the Department as to certain areas of difficulty, and the perceptions of the Department’s staff at the front-line (which corresponded to those expressed by prisoners).  We refer to the lack of work, programmes and other meaningful activity for prisoners, the lack of recreation, the extent of property loss, the effect of HRX categorisation, and the “66% rule”.  Front-line staff seemed to perceive far greater problems than were demonstrated in formal correspondence to us from National Office.

In the light of our experience gained from this investigation and our prior routine work, we prefer the picture presented by front-line staff.  However, even if we were persuaded that this were to be misguided, we would remain disturbed at the gulf that emerged between the understanding of the Department’s National Office and its staff in the prisons.  We consider that this is something that should be addressed and that there needs to be greater meaningful liaison between National Office and front-line staff.  Put another way, National Office should obtain the views of staff more often, and listen more attentively to staff.

On a positive note, we reiterate that we have found neither systemic ill-treatment of prisoners or abuses of power as were reflected in the CERU and the BMR, nor any culture within prison staff for abuse of prisoners.

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