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Report on an unannounced inspection of Hawke's Bay Regional Prison

Prisoners / Corrections
Peter Boshier
Issue date:

Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison was opened in 1989. The Prison accommodates male prisoners with security classifications ranging from minimum to high, as well as a growing remand population. It has an operating capacity of 730 and there are plans for an additional 60 beds.

The Prison has increased in capacity over the years and now comprises six high-security units, which are mainly double-bunked, for adult male prisoners. There is a number of 60 and 80 bed low-security hut units, an internal self-care unit, an external self-care unit that was closed at the time of this inspection, two drug treatment units, a Te Tirohanga Unit and a Youth Unit for prisoners aged between 16 and 19 years. The Prison also has a residential reintegrative unit – Te Whare Oranga Ake, one of two such facilities in the country.

The Prison can be described as an institution of two halves, with pronounced differences between the conditions and atmosphere in the high-security units and the low-security areas. The high-security side of the prison presented a number of challenges and areas of serious concern, in particular the fundamental issues of safety and decency. I have made a number of recommendations relating to these matters.

There was a clear and urgent need for the Prison to address the levels of violence and intimidation that are features of too many prisoners’ experience, particularly in the high-security units. I saw no evidence of a gang management strategy, and anti-bullying efforts were ineffective in addressing predatory behaviour.

Limited staff interaction with high-security prisoners and insufficient provision of constructive activities has resulted in an atmosphere of boredom and frustration. The regime for remand accused prisoners remained unsatisfactory, despite the recommendations made by the United Nations Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture following its visit in 2013.

A further key concern related to basic decency standards. There were shortfalls in the provision of clean bedding and clothing for prisoners and many mattress covers were stained and mouldy. Prisoners in the high-security units were washing clothing in buckets on the wings.

Prisoners reported a number of frustrating inconsistencies in the pricing of canteen goods and articles allowed in their possession. They expressed a lack of confidence in the complaints procedure.

There was a general lack of awareness around less familiar cultures and vulnerabilities. While this was disappointing, it was not altogether surprising given that the Prison does not have an Equality and Diversity Policy. The consequences for prisoners were that a range of differing needs such as religion, gender identity and physical and intellectual disability that were outside the established norms were not routinely met. Efforts were being made to reduce Māori offending, although it was difficult to determine how effective the initiatives were.

I found examples of good practice, particularly regarding the Prison’s efforts to establish itself as a working prison, engaging with potential employers in the community and providing prisoners with information on opportunities through a well-organised job exhibition. The current closure of the external self-care unit due to a shortage of suitable prisoners indicates that these positive efforts towards successful resettlement and reintegration need to be more closely matched with improved prisoner progression arrangements, in order to make best use of the available facilities, and to motivate prisoners to make positive use of their time in custody.

The Prison faces a number of challenges as it strives to contribute to Corrections’ key priorities that relate to reducing reoffending. International best practice indicates that the provision of a safe, decent and fair environment is the essential prerequisite for positive change. I have asked Corrections to implement the recommendations as soon as practicable and report back to me on their implementation within six months.  It is my intention to prepare a progress report on the implementation of the recommendations to Parliament and the United Nations. 

I will continue to monitor the Prison’s progress with follow-up visits.

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