Inspectorate report: Human rights issues continue to plague prisons

The Office of the Inspectorate has released its latest inspection report for Invercargill Prison. The report raises serious concerns across a number of areas, including prison conditions and facilities, especially for people in Remand.

The report highlights issues of access to appropriate clothing; damp mattresses; and a lack of privacy when going to the toilet and when newly arrived prisoners receive their medical examination. The report also documents limited access to cultural practices and customs that support Te Ao Māori, and a lack of understanding about the Hōkai Rangi Strategy in the health team.

Amnesty International Campaigns Director Lisa Woods said, “All people should be treated with dignity and respect, including people in prison. Unfortunately, concerns about the conditions of the prisons that people must live in are not new, and we’ve seen concerns across the country.”

The report shows the conditions for people being held in on Remand were particularly terrible. In the Remand Unit, the Inspectors reported condensation on the walls and that several prisoners had damp mattresses and bedding. The Clinical Inspectors identified people in prison who had related health issues, such as rashes, consistent with poor ventilation and high levels of moisture.

The Inspectors also found that a cell that was infested with silverfish. When Inspectors raised the issue, staff said infestations were regular.

"This is completely unacceptable, the Department of Corrections has a duty of care to people in prison."
Lisa Woods, Campaigns Director, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

“We acknowledge that the report states that prompt action was taken after the Inspectorate raised their concerns about the conditions in the Remand Unit, with the Remand Unit closed. However, it should never have got to that point.

“The issues in this report are part of a long list of serious human rights concerns in prisons across the country. What we’re seeing is a pattern. This indicates far-reaching structural changes are needed across the prison system, and the Minister for Corrections, Kelvin Davis must take responsibility.

“The scale of the problem is immense. But over the years there has been a huge amount of work carried out about what can be done, for example as set out by Ināia Tonu Nei. There are pathways forward,” said Woods.

Additional concerns raised in the report include

The report found that if staff were busy in the Remand Unit, people in separate cells could be locked in their yards without access to a toilet, water or shelter from the weather for extended periods of time.

People in prison reported varying experiences with the complaints system. People in the Remand Unit said they did not receive a response to their complaint until they submitted more than one; and people in the South Unit said they were discouraged from making complaints by some staff.

Some staff reported to the inspectors that they felt unsupported by the prison’s management who did not listen to their concerns. Staff also spoke about the need for specialist training in ICU.

People had to transfer to other prisons to access many of the rehabilitation programmes because “the prison had too few prisoners to make many rehabilitation programmes viable.”