Report on an announced follow up inspection of Whanganui Prison under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989

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Executive summary

Background

Ombudsmen are designated one of the National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) under the Crimes of Torture Act (COTA), with responsibility for examining and monitoring the general conditions and treatment of detainees in New Zealand prisons.

From 14 to 17 September 2020, my Inspectors (whom I have authorised to carry out visits of places of detention under COTA) visited Whanganui Prison (the Prison) to follow up on 37 recommendations made in my previous OPCAT inspection report (August 2018).1

There were 501 detainees in the Prison on the first day of inspection.2 The Prison is a male- designated facility, with capacity for 551 detainees with security classifications ranging from minimum to high security.

The Prison incorporates the New Plymouth Remand Centre (NPRC) which houses detainees of all genders, including young people. The NPRC is located within the New Plymouth Police Station. Two of my Inspectors visited the facility on 18 September 2020. There were 14 detainees held at the facility.

Methodology

During this follow up inspection, my Inspectors (the Team) visited all units and spoke with a selection of detainees, managers and staff across the site. The Team looked for progress in implementing the recommendations made in 2018, and identified additional issues that needed addressing.

My Inspectors provided initial verbal feedback to the Prison Director and members of the leadership team on 17 September 2020, outlining initial observations.

Following the inspection, the Team requested further information from the facility and engaged in further analysis of data.

Findings

The follow up inspection found that of the 35 recommendations I made in August 2018, 15 had been achieved, 8 partially achieved, and 12 not achieved.

Thirteen repeat and 1 new recommendation have been made as a consequence of the follow up inspection in September 2020 (see list of all recommendations in Appendix 1).

This announced follow up inspection took place during COVID-19 Alert Level 2.3 My Inspectors made the following positive observations:

  • The majority of staff were up-to-date with their Control and Restraint training;
  • A telephone for prisoners had been installed in the Intervention and Support Unit (ISU);
  • An anti-bullying strategy had been implemented;
  • There were low rates of Voluntary Segregation at the Prison;
  • Shared Accommodation Cell Risk Assessments (SACRAs) were completed as per policy;
  • There was a reduction in double-bunking since my 2018 inspection;
  • Privacy screening in double-bunked cells had been installed;
  • All prisoners were able to access adequate clean clothing and bedding;
  • All physical examinations took place in the Health care centre;
  • There was an increase in constructive activities for remand accused prisoners; and
  • The Parole Ready initiative was implemented. I remain concerned about:
  • The use of ‘dry rooms’ as overflow safe cells in the ISU;
  • Prisoners in the ISU still being subject to CCTV monitoring in their cells;
  • A lack of translated induction material for non-English speakers;
  • Excessive heat and inadequate ventilation in cells;
  • Meals being served outside normal hours;
  • Medication errors and unsafe dispensation practice at the Prison;
  • The absence of a comprehensive system for recognising and supporting prisoners with disabilities;
  • Some staff’s attitudes towards transgender detainees; and
  • The reduction of unlock hours for some low-security prisoners.

I also identified a new area of concern:

  • Complaints were not always dealt with in a timely manner.

1     A copy of this report can be found on my website, see https://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/resources/report-unannounced-inspection-whanganui-prison-4- september-2018

2     When I have used the term ‘detainees’, I am referring to all people held at the Prison, including young people held at the New Plymouth Remand Centre. When I refer specifically to adults held at the Prison, including those on remand, I have used the term ‘prisoner’.

3 For more about COVID-19 and the New Zealand Government’s response, see https://www.health.govt.nz/our- work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus and https://covid19.govt.nz/alert-system/covid-19- alert-system, retrieved on 16 July 2020.

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