Report on an announced targeted inspection of Christchurch Women’s 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
Christchurch Women’s Prison (the Prison) is near Templeton on the western outskirts of Christchurch. It opened in 1974 and can accommodate 144 remand and sentenced prisoners, ranging from minimum to high security classification. It is the one of three women’s prisons in New Zealand and the only women’s prison in the South Island. Small numbers of youth may also be detained at the Prison. Inspectors were told that on 28 September 2021 there were 80 prisoners in the Prison, so it was operating at approximately 51 percent capacity. Fifty percent of these prisoners were Māori and 45 percent were European.
The Prison was comprised of the Separates Units - Intervention and Support Unit and Manaaki Unit; the Selwyn and Avon Units. In addition there was the Waimakariri Self-Care Unit with nine self-care houses, including two houses allocated for mothers and babies. At the time of inspection, a new 122-bed modular accommodation build, the Te Waihora Unit, a new low security unit, had recently opened on the prison grounds and was partially in operation. The Prison was in the process of developing one of the new modular accommodation units, Te Wai Pounamu, as a future kaupapa Māori space. A smoke extraction system was being installed in the 20-bed Rakaia Unit at the time of inspection, so this was not in operation.
I make the following recommendations:
Recommendations for the Prison
- The Prison ensures the use of force register, related paperwork and reviews are routinely completed as a matter of priority.
- I recommend the Prison ensure the provision of appropriate accommodation to meet the individual needs of prisoners.
- The Prison ensure all relevant staff continue to be provided with specialised training to support prisoners with complex mental health needs.
- The Prison ensures segregation is only used for a legitimate and lawful purpose, segregation orders and paperwork are robust and fully completed, and tailored management plans are in place.
- The Prison take immediate steps to improve the Selwyn Unit so as to meet adequate standards for accommodation.
Recommendations for the Department of Corrections
- The Department of Corrections prioritises the decommissioning and replacement of the Intervention and Support Unit and Manaaki Unit at Christchurch Women’s Prison in its network configuration plan.
- The Department of Corrections prioritises the decommissioning and replacement of the Selwyn Unit at Christchurch Women’s Prison in its network configuration plan.
Joint Recommendations for the Prison and Department of Corrections
- The Department of Corrections and the Prison ensure that spit hoods are never used on vulnerable detainees, including young people and disabled people.
- The Department of Corrections and the Prison cease intrusive CCTV monitoring as a matter of priority, and implement monitoring solutions that ensure the dignity and respect of all prisoners.
- The Prison, in consultation with the Department of Corrections, develop and implement a site-specific plan to address bullying and intimidation, including in relation to nicotine lozenges.
 The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. More information about OPCAT and the Chief Ombudsman’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) function can be found at https://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/what-we-can-help/monitoring-places-detention/why-ombudsman-monitors-places-detention