Report on an unannounced follow up inspection of Christchurch Men’s 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 25 to 28 February 2020, my Inspectors (whom I have authorised to carry out visits of places of detention under COTA) visited Christchurch Men’s Prison (the Prison) to follow up on 54 recommendations made in my previous OPCAT inspection report (December 2017).1

There were 919 prisoners in the Prison on the first day of inspection. The Prison had designated capacity for 966 men with security classifications ranging from minimum to high security classification.

Methodology

During this follow up inspection, my Inspectors (the Team) visited all units and spoke with a selection of prisoners, managers and staff across the site. Inspectors also held a focus group with prisoners in one of the low security units. The Team looked for progress in implementing the recommendations made in 2017, and identified any additional issues that needed addressing.

My Inspectors provided verbal feedback to the Prison Director and members of the leadership team on 28 February 2020, outlining initial observations.

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

Findings

The follow up inspection found that of the 54 recommendations I made in December 2017, 10 had been achieved, 12 partially achieved and 27 not achieved. My Team were unable to assess or verify the status of a further five recommendations due to inspection time constraints and the subsequent lockdown due to COVID-19. This unannounced follow up inspection took place some three weeks before the New Zealand Government implemented the ‘alert level’ system for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic23 and the nationwide ‘lockdown’.

 

One new and 26 repeat recommendations have been made as a consequence of the follow up inspection in February 2020 (see list of all recommendations in Appendix 2).

My Inspectors made the following positive observations:

  • Interactions between staff and prisoners appeared to be largely positive and were improved from my 2017 inspection. Prisoners’ verbal feedback to my Inspectors about staff was generally complimentary.
  • The Prison Director and Prison Management Team had a number of initiatives they were working on implementing to improve conditions at the Prison;
  • The employment of high security prisoners within the Prison had begun to increase;
  • There were some improvements in the availability of purposeful activities for sentenced prisoners;
  • The pilot Intervention and Support Project Team were beginning to work alongside custodial staff to improve conditions for prisoners with mental health concerns; and
  • The Prison entry search procedures were greatly improved. I continue to remain concerned about:
  • The high level of use of force in the Intervention and Support Unit (ISU) and the

continued use of unapproved control and restraint techniques;

  • The lack of privacy for prisoners undertaking their ablutions in the ISU;
  • Minimum entitlements being denied for at least one prisoner; and
  • The lack of both time out of cell and meaningful activity for remand prisoners.

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

 

2     COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is a coronavirus that can affect peoples’ lungs and airways. Its existence was confirmed on 9 January 2020 in China and, on 12 March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the virus outbreak to be a global pandemic.

 

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.

3     A copy of my report on nine prisons inspected between 29 April and 8 May 2020, at the time New Zealand was at Alert Level 3, is on my website at https://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/resources/opcat-covid-19- report-report-inspections-prisons-under-crimes-torture-act-1989.

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