Government announces plans to beef up prisons inspection regime

Corrections Minister Louise Upston says the changes to the prison inspection regime will give the public greater ...

Corrections Minister Louise Upston says the changes to the prison inspection regime will give the public greater assurances about the safety of the system.

New Zealand's prisons inspection regime is being beefed up, with the Government announcing regular reviews of all prisons and a new inspection team.

The announcement comes the day after a release of an Ombudsman's report accusing prisons of breaching the UN Convention Against Torture through excessive use of restraints.

On Wednesday, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier released a report into the use of restraint in prisons which found the use of tie-down beds and restraints in five separate cases - including one where a self-harming prisoner was restrained for 16 hours a day over 37 consecutive nights - constituted "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment.

Corrections Minister Louise Upston said the changes were signed off before the report was released, but its findings demonstrated the public interest in having more information about the prison system.

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"They do want to understand what a happens, some of the complexities, and I think from yesterday they've learned a bit more about some of the very very challenging prisoners that the staff have to deal with."

Upston said regular, "proactive" reviews of all prisons would be introduced, with inspections every 20 months and more frequently for high-risk sites.

A new prisons inspection team would be set up to manage the inspections, "ring-fenced" from the general Corrections inspectorate which would continue to investigate specific complaints.

Upston said she would be provided with quarterly reports from the inspection team, which would be made public.

The Government would also provide new, wide-ranging powers for a beefed-up chief inspector's role, while there would be an increase in staff including eight new inspectors.

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Upston said the changes, which had been developed in tandem with the State Services Commission, would provide greater assurances about "the safe, secure and humane treatment of prisoners, operation issues and best practice".

The changes would be put in place over the next six months, with the first inspection under the new system taking place this month at Manawatu Prison.

Green Party corrections spokesman David Clendon said the announcement was positive, but still an in-house system rather than fully independent inspectorate.

"What the minister is suggesting is good, but it still has Corrections as both a poacher and a gamekeeper."

Clendon said independent prison inspectorates were well established in countries like the UK, and were "much more attuned to failures" than internal inspectors.

"I do believe that an independent body would have picked up on this mistreatment [use of restraints] much, much more's just the nature of the beast, anything in-house over time becomes part of that in-house culture."

One of the Government's previous Corrections ministers, Sam Lotu-Iiga, supported the idea of an independent inspectorate shortly before stepping down in 2015.

However, Upston said Cabinet had considered an independent model as part of its work but believed its proposal was best.

 - Stuff

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