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Report on an unannounced inspection of Arohata Upper Prison - 21 March 2018

Prisoners / Corrections
Peter Boshier
Issue date:

In July 2015, the Upper Prison at Rimutaka Prison was closed as new, more suitable facilities became available for prisoners across the estate. In February 2017, due to the significant increase in the women’s muster at Arohata Prison, Corrections reopened two of Rimutaka Upper Prison’s four wings.

In May 2017, two of four wings were operational at the Upper Prison, accommodating 56 women. At the time of the five-day inspection in September 2017, all four wings were open to accommodate up to 112 women. All wings were occupied.

It was clear that the Upper Prison was facing considerable challenges. Resources, infrastructure and staffing were under pressure, which was compounded by the geographical separation from the administrative centre at Tawa. Day-to-day operating systems and arrangements for dealing with women were not fully embedded. Reception and induction processes were poor, and information for foreign prisoners was not available. Significant delays in access to personal property were a source of frustration for many women, reflected in the growing number of complaints and misconducts. 

Cells were small, and ancillary services appeared to be operating close to capacity. Communal space was limited and not fit for purpose. Acoustics on the wing were poor and recreation yards were dirty. The 8am to 5pm unlock regime was more suited to managing high-security prisoners, yet the Upper Prison housed women with low security classifications. The quality of hot food was good, but meals were not being served at usual or appropriate meal times.

The Upper Prison was in the process of establishing a new health facility. Delivery of health services was reasonably good overall, although staff levels were impacting on some areas, particularly the development of health promotion activities. There was no structured analysis of health needs, and consequently no prisoner health development plan to determine priorities and identify emerging trends. Dental treatment provision was insufficient.

There was an acknowledged lack of meaningful and constructive activities. Programmes and employment were not well established, with nearly two-thirds of women not engaged in any purposeful activities.

A lack of programmes and planned progression was having a detrimental effect on prisoner motivation, although staff were actively engaged with the women. Privacy was often compromised due to a lack of appropriate meeting rooms. Social work and counselling services were stretched and religious and cultural support limited. There was little evidence of the implementation of the Department’s newly released Women’s Strategy.

Opportunities for maintaining family contact were inadequate. Inspectors found that many women did not receive visits due to distance and associated travel costs, and the earlier lock up prevented most women from telephoning their children after they had finished school. Limited visits combined with restricted access to telephones and an unsatisfactory mail system affected the women’s mental wellbeing. Audio Visual Link provision for family contact was underdeveloped.

Inspectors returned to the facility in October 2017 to review progress. I was disappointed to learn that a consultation process had begun on a proposal to double-bunk cells in the Upper Prison due to continuing muster pressures. Without significant improvements and additions to the current inadequate regime, I do not consider the facility suitable for double-bunking; even with these additions and improvements, the Upper Prison would be suitable for double-bunking only as a temporary measure.

In mid-February 2018, the Department informed my Office that a final decision has been made to double-bunk 44 cells at the Upper Prison.[1]  

The Upper Prison currently faces considerable challenges, and priority must be given to establishing a purposeful regime for these low-security prisoners to alleviate distress and boredom.

We will continue to monitor and report on the Upper Prison’s progress with follow-up visits.

[1] Eleven cells in each wing will be double-bunked.

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