Sam Lotu-Iiga backs independent prisons inspectorate in final move as Corrections Minister
In his last days in the job, outgoing Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga has backed calls for an independent prisons inspectorate, in the wake of failures at privately run Mt Eden prison.
The Department of Corrections announced this week it would not renew private operator Serco's contract for Mt Eden at a break point in March 2017, following reports of "fight clubs", the use of contraband and alleged mistreatment of prisoners.
Cassandra Harwood, whose partner, Wayne Hotton, was found dead on his own in a locked isolation cell at Mt Eden, said earlier this year an independent prisons inspectorate was needed to prevent similar tragedies.
Lotu-Iiga has thrown his support behind the idea as he prepares to vacate his corrections role, saying an independent inspectorate for public and private prisons is "something that I'm eager to see put in place".
"I believe that the current inspectorate does a great job ... but I also believe that an independent inspectorate is a good idea.
"It is about strengthening the independent oversight of the whole corrections system, and ultimately what that does is provide assurances for the public, for ministers, and also for offenders and their families."
Lotu-Iiga said he had been working with State Services Minister Paula Bennett on a number of options for an independent inspectorate, in response to problems with the current system.
"There have been concerns expressed to me around the independence of the current system, and also the work around obviously Mt Eden, and even the Phillip Smith case, led me to look into the idea."
He had also spoken to officials from Australian states with their own independent inspectorates, who said their systems worked well and gave him the confidence to push ahead with plans.
Lotu-Iiga said announcement on a new inspection model was likely "in due course", although it was up to Cabinet and new Corrections Minister Judith Collins to make a final call.
Collins, who takes over from Lotu-Iiga tomorrow, said she would speak to officials about the idea after being sworn in.
"I'm always willing to look at ways to improve safety within the prisons and better outcomes, but I'd really need to have a look at it and it's all a little bit premature."
While Corrections "certainly didn't need" an independent inspectorate when Collins was last minister, she said it was worth reconsidering in light of any changes to the prisons environment since then.
"I'm always willing to look at ways that will end up with better outcomes."
- Sunday Star Times