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Report on an unannounced inspection of Spring Hill Corrections Facility

Prisoners / Corrections
Peter Boshier
Issue date:

Spring Hill Corrections Facility (the Prison) opened in 2007. The Prison accommodates male prisoners with security classifications ranging from minimum to high, as well as a growing remand population. Currently, it has an operating capacity of 1038.

The Prison was originally designed to house 650 sentenced prisoners at the latter stages of their sentence, with a primary focus on supporting successful rehabilitation and reintegration through a transparent progression pathway. The function and focus of the Prison has changed considerably in the last seven years; initially with the introduction of double-bunking in 2010, and more recently with the introduction of remand prisoners,[1] who make up just over a quarter (27 percent) of the total prison population. These changes have presented a number of additional challenges for the management team as it sought to establish, incorporate and embed effective systems for the safe and secure operation of a new prison. I noted weaknesses around record keeping and monitoring processes to assure the safe, secure and transparent operation of the Prison, particularly in relation to Use of Force, Directed Segregation and management of at-risk prisoners.

The Prison was dealing with many more prisoner movements and all the associated demands for services, which was placing considerable pressure on current systems. Accommodating remand prisoners has resulted in a significant shift in the general prisoner risk profile. Remand prisoners require a structured environment and range of services that reflect their needs and not those of other established prisoner groups. The Prison was working hard to respond to these new demands. According to the acting Prison Director and prisoner responses to a questionnaire undertaken by my Inspectors, an increase in violence – particularly prisoner-on-prisoner assaults – and the pervasive influence of new psychoactive substances were also presenting challenges.[2]

Over half of the questionnaire respondents (fifty-four percent) reported feeling unsafe in the prison at some time and just under half (forty-eight percent) felt unsafe at the time of the inspection. One in three claimed they had been assaulted in the Prison, but only one in three of those assaulted had reported the assault. Prisoners stated that they had no confidence that any action would be taken.

Prisoners were also critical about many aspects of life at the Prison, including their ability to obtain sufficient clothing, bedding and toiletries as well as arrangements for access to their property, and mail distribution.

I found that accommodation was reasonably well maintained and the environment clean. Typically, staff were determined to respond positively to the challenges they faced. They were, however, busy and at times appeared stretched and this limited their ability to engage with and supervise prisoners in a proactive way.

Inspectors generally found that staff and prisoners were unable to clearly articulate basic expectations and standards in relation to equality and diversity and the management of complaints needed to improve. There was little being done to reduce Māori offending, and cultural support was limited, although chaplaincy services were visible across the site.

Delivery of Health Services was reasonably good overall although staff shortages 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. Corrections staff were aware of prisoners who required additional supports in relation to physical disabilities and made suitable adaptations for prisoners in order to meet their unique needs. The lay-out of the Prison did not present any significant challenges to prisoners with mobility issues.

Cooperation and teamwork observed between custodial staff, health staff and case managers was generally poor.

Time out of cell was limited for high-security prisoners; more so for prisoners on voluntary segregation and remand, with thirty-nine percent of questionnaire respondents reporting they had fewer than four hours out of cell a day. This was compounded by having two prisoners in cells originally designed for one, and prisoners being required to eat all meals in their cell.

A wide range of constructive activities was available at the Prison, predominately for low-security prisoners, who were also subject to reduced unlock hours as a consequence of staff shortages. Access to library and gym time was reasonable depending on security classification.

Some aspects of offender management were good; however, a consistent concern arising from prisoners was sentence progression. The external Self-Care Unit was closed and Te Whare Oranga Ake was operating under capacity, which reduced opportunities for prisoners to progress to less restrictive conditions where they might demonstrate new, pro-social behaviours. Almost half the questionnaire respondents (forty-eight percent) stated they were not engaged in purposeful activities, and two thirds of high-security prisoners were not engaged in purposeful regime activities.

Overall, the significant increase in prisoner numbers and the recent introduction of remand prisoners had placed systems and governance processes under some pressure. It was also concerning that some aspects of early days in custody were weak, particularly prisoner access to clothing and toiletries, and that some prisoners were not consistently provided with an appropriate level of care.

I will continue to monitor progress with follow-up visits.

[1]     Remand prisoners who are managed at a high-security level were introduced to the Prison in September 2015.

[2]     Psychoactive substances are new drugs that mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis and heroin.

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