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OPCAT COVID-19 report: Report on inspections of prisons under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989

Issue date:

Executive summary

This report outlines my key findings and recommendations in relation to nine prisons inspected during the period of 29 April 2020 to 8 May 2020. At the time of the inspections, New Zealand was at COVID-19 Alert Level 3.[1]

My key observation was that prisons responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in a well-resourced, balanced, and efficient manner, despite the complex challenges of managing prisoners at this time. My Inspectors observed generally positive relationships between the staff and prisoners, and noted enhanced health and safety processes were in place and effectively communicated to staff and prisoners.

I found that prisons had taken measures to support prisoners in maintaining contact with the outside world, and provided them with relevant and up-to-date information about COVID-19. Prisoners spoke of feeling supported, safe, and well-informed.

I made some recommendations for improving the conditions and treatment of prisoners in seven prisons. In particular, I found that some prisoners in some units at four prisons were not receiving access to at least one hour of fresh air on a daily basis,[2] or being provided with activities to occupy their time. This was especially the case for prisoners who had been isolated for 14 days as new arrivals in a prison or due to suspected COVID-19 symptoms, or who were placed in medical isolation because they were identified as being particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.


[1]     See for more about New Zealand’s COVID-19 alert system.

[2]     Rule 23 (1) of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) provides that: Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.

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