Report on an announced targeted inspection of Arohata Prison under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989
Following report has been prepared in my capacity as a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), as designated under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 (COTA). The purpose of the COTA is to enable Aotearoa New Zealand to meet its international obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol (OPCAT).
I am empowered to examine places of detention: where people are unable to leave at will. My designation includes prisons. Central to this is conducting visits and inspections. This has a preventive purpose, to ensure that safeguards against ill-treatment are in place and that poor practices, or systemic problems, are identified and addressed promptly.
My role is to form an independent opinion as to the conditions and treatment in these places, report my findings and if necessary make recommendations for improvement.
Find out more about the Chief Ombudsman’s OPCAT role, and read his reports online: ombudsman.parliament.nz/opcat
Arohata Prison (the Prison) is a women’s prison in Tawa near Wellington. It can accommodate 164 minimum to high security prisoners, including remand prisoners, and employs 138 full-time equivalent staff. It is one of three women’s prisons in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Prison falls within the Department of Corrections (Corrections) Lower North region.
There were 103 prisoners in the Prison on 23 November 2021, when this inspection started, so it was operating at approximately 63 percent capacity. Fifty-five prisoners (53 percent) were on remand, while 47 (46 percent) were sentenced. Ten prisoners (10 percent) were serving sentences less than two years in duration, while four prisoners were serving life sentences. Sixty-one prisoners (59 percent) were Māori, compared with 16.5 percent of the general population of Aotearoa New Zealand. At the time of inspection, there were no prisoners aged under 18 at the Prison. A short description of the residential units in the Prison is set out in Appendix 1.
I previously conducted an inspection of the Prison in 2015 and a follow up inspection in 2017. I also conducted an inspection of the Upper Prison at Rimutaka Prison in September 2017 when it was being used as a satellite site of Arohata Prison to cater for the increased number of women prisoners.
I make the following recommendations:
Recommendations for the Prison
- The Prison records and saves video footage for all use of force incidents.
- The Prison ensures the use of force register, related documentation, and reviews are routinely, comprehensively, and accurately completed as a matter of priority.
- The Prison ensures that all prisoners on segregation have management plans tailored to their individual needs.
- The Prison ensures prisoners have adequate privacy in their cells.
- The Prison ensures that all conversations with legal representatives and other statutory visitors can take place in private.
Recommendations for the Department of Corrections
- The Department of Corrections develops and delivers additional use of force training to all staff authorised to use pepper spray, including training on de-escalation techniques and alternatives to pepper spray, before July 2023.
- The Department of Corrections prioritises the decommissioning and replacement of the Secure Unit and the Intervention and Support Unit with modern, fit for purpose, environments.
- The Department of Corrections ensures the intrusive CCTV monitoring of at-risk prisoners ceases as a matter of priority, and implements monitoring solutions which better support the needs of vulnerable prisoners.
- The Department of Corrections ensures the serving of meals is standardised to normal hours, with lunch being served between midday and 1.30pm and dinner being served between 5pm and 7pm.
Joint Recommendations for the Department of Corrections and the Prison
- The Department of Corrections and the Prison ensure that all prisoners have access to suitable outdoor areas for recreation and exercise in the fresh air.
 I am empowered by section 27 of the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 to make recommendations for improving the conditions and treatment of detention applying to detainees and for preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in places of detention.
 Of those prisoners, 36 (65 percent) were awaiting trial and 19 (35 percent) were awaiting sentencing.
 At the 2018 Census. Statistics New Zealand. New Zealand’s population reflects growing cultural diversity. Wellington, 2019. Accessed on 18 November 2021 at www.stats.govt.nz/new-zealands-population-reflects-growing-diversity
 Report on an unannounced inspection of Upper Prison (Arohata) under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989, June 2018.