The Department of Corrections says it has accepted all 13 recommendations of an independent review into the prisoner mail system and is making a number of changes to strengthen the management of prisoner mail.
The review was conducted by Miriam Dean CNZM QC and Grant O’Fee MNZM. It found that while incoming mail processes work reasonably well, there are too many individuals involved in outgoing mail processes and some prisons are not well resourced to manage this work given the sheer volume of mail. It also found some improvements in the legislation and regulations governing this area that could be made.
Corrections Chief Executive Christine Stevenson says a comprehensive plan to address all 13 of the recommendations has been developed, with a number of changes already underway. These include:
- Carrying out regular audits of mail processes, including how staff make decisions to withhold or release mail;
- Setting up dedicated mail-monitoring teams to open, read and withhold mail in one seamless process;
- Providing staff with interim guidelines on scanning and withholding mail, gang mail and content of a sexual nature;
- Ensuring outgoing envelopes are identified as prisoner mail and contain contact details for recipients to contact Corrections if they do not want to receive mail from the prisoner; and
- Providing prisoners with practical guidance on mail processes, and improving our complaints process by creating a specific category for mail complaints.
Additional changes to be made include:
- Providing advice to the Minister on legislative changes, including changes regarding the reading, copying and storing of mail;
- Preparing new manual guidelines that are clear, concise and take staff step by step through mail processes;
- Training mail teams using face-to-face workshops, as well as e-based learning; and
- Creating a new module on prisoners’ communications in the training programme for new recruits.
Ms Stevenson says the mail of prisoners who have been identified with potential extremist ideologies and/or registered victims continues to be centralised until we have confidence the new process is working as intended.
“We estimate around 15,000 items of mail are sent to and from prisoners each week. It is a fine balance to uphold our lawful obligation to meet prisoners’ statutory entitlements while mitigating the potential risks posed by prisoners who may wish to cause harm to others,” she says.