New Zealand Law Society - Chief Ombudsman condemns double-bunking plan

Chief Ombudsman condemns double-bunking plan

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Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has criticised the decision to have double-bunking at Arohata Upper Prison in Wellington.

In his report, Mr Boshier has also condemned low security inmates being managed as high security prisoners.

Arohata Upper Prison is a satellite site of Arohata Women’s Prison and is in the grounds of Rimutaka Prison in Trentham, separated from the men’s facility by a perimeter fence.

Mr Boshier says during an inspection of the satellite site late last year, inspectors expressed strong concerns about proposals to double-bunk. The Department of Corrections confirmed in February that double-bunking would go ahead in 44 of the Upper Prison’s cells.

“Cell sizes at Arohata Upper Prison don’t meet the international standard for even one person, let alone two”, Mr Boshier says. “The facility simply won’t be suitable for double-bunking without significant improvements and additions, and even then double-bunking should only ever be used as a temporary, emergency measure.”

Arohata Upper Prison has been used since February 2017 to accommodate prisoners from Arohata and from Auckland and Christchurch Women’s Prisons, due to rising prisoner numbers.

Peter Boshier says that overall, the facilities and conditions at Arohata Upper Prison put prisoners at a severe disadvantage.

“All the women at Arohata Upper Prison are low security, yet they’re managed as if they’re high security, with much less time out of cell, little or no constructive activity, and no access to the programmes they need to complete for successful parole.”

The Chief Ombudsman says a particularly troubling aspect of his inspection was the challenges for women from outside the region who now live at a considerable distance from their children due to their transfer to Arohata Upper Prison.

“The Department of Corrections is facing some very difficult choices in dealing with our ever-increasing prisoner numbers, and I recognise there is no magic bullet solution,” Peter Boshier says.

“But as a country, we have to do better. Adding double-bunking to an already cramped and limited environment will have a very negative effect on the women’s physical and mental wellbeing, and their prospects for rehabilitation.”

The Upper Prison’s capacity is for 112 low/medium to minimum security prisoners, and it was full at the time of the inspection in late 2017.

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