To be attributed to Neil Beales, Chief Custodial Officer.
Corrections acknowledges the Ombudsman’s independent assessment of Arohata (Upper Prison) under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).
The Ombudsman made 25 recommendations and Corrections has made significant progress in ensuring they are met, including a $10m investment in the facility. This will include:
- An extended unlock regime, providing prisoners with greater time outside of their cells to engage in meaningful constructive activity along with opportunities to participate in education, employment and rehabilitation interventions;
- Additional constructive activities, in addition to yoga, weaving, art, board games, Kapa Haka and sewing which are currently available. The additional activities planned include formalised physical education training, painting, decorating and tiling training facilitated by Weltec, the Mana Wahine programme, vegetable gardens to supply produce to local groups, and the appointment of a social worker, counsellor, interventions coordinator and fitness and wellbeing instructor;
- The addition of two new yards with drinking fountains and prisoner phones;
- Refurbishment of an administrative building as a programmes hub;
- Refurbishment of at the At Risk and Separates cell facilities; and
- Upgrade of the gym facilities.
Corrections is committed to operating a prison network that protects the safety of prisoners, staff and the New Zealand public. The Ombudsman’s report will help in this respect and further improve aspects of the prison.
Some of the challenges faced at Arohata are the direct result of the need for us to rapidly increase prison capacity in response to a 40 percent rise in the women’s prisoner population in the last two years. This is driven by a range of factors outside the control of Corrections.
Double bunking has been raised in the report as an issue of concern. A consultation process with unions and the Ombudsman commenced in September 2017 and we are close to finalising a plan that will ensure a safe and secure facility, with the necessary level of staffing that enables prisoners access to rehabilitation programmes. Initially, we had planned to double bunk 88 of the 112 beds at the facility, however this has been substantially reduced after consultation and we now plan to double bunk 44 beds.
As well as the $10 million investment to upgrade the Arohata (Upper Prison) facility, a new wing is being constructed at the Arohata, (Tawa) site. This will include accommodation for 69 women prisoners and is due to be completed in the middle of next year.
In recognition of the different approach required to support women prisoners to turn their lives around, we launched our Women’s Strategy PDF, 1585.24 KB in August 2017.
The four year strategy sets out a new approach to providing women with the treatment, encouragement, counselling, skills and support they need to shape better futures for themselves, their children and their families.
Our Mental Health Strategy, launched last year, sets out our commitment to investing in and improving the way we work with people affected by mental health disorders.
We take our duty of care seriously and we are fully committed to improving prisoners’ mental health and reducing the incidence of self-harm and suicide in prisons. We are investing $25 million to pilot new mental health services and support those at risk of self-harm. This includes increased mental health support for prisoners and community-based offenders, counselling and social work support for women prisoners, support in transitioning back into communities for prisoners with complex mental health needs and wrap around support for families of offenders receiving mental health services. Over the next four years we are also developing a new ‘whole of prison’ model for care of at-risk prisoners.
We screen all offenders for mental health problems and drug and alcohol issues when they enter prison and have implemented a new approach to managing those most at risk. This includes:
- improving the risk assessment tools used by custodial staff to better identify those prisoners at risk so staff can intervene sooner to reduce the risk of self harm or suicide;
- introducing multi-disciplinary teams who provide specialist care for people both in the At Risk Unit and once they have left; and
- enhancing the physical environment of our At Risk Units.
In addition, we have a number of preventative measures in place to help reduce the rate of suicide and self harm in prison. These include:
- suicide and mental health awareness training for frontline staff and refresher courses every two years;
- active management of at-risk prisoners including observation regimes and observations cells in units designed to minimise opportunities for self harm; and
- referral processes for forensic care.
Read the full report into investigation of Arohata (Upper) Prison under OPCAT on the Ombudsman's website.