New Zealand Law Society - Ombudsman: COVID-19 measures affected some prisoners’ rights

Ombudsman: COVID-19 measures affected some prisoners’ rights

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The Chief Ombudsman says overall prisons are taking positive steps to keep coronavirus out, but this has come at the expense of some prisoners’ rights.

Peter Boshier has published a new report summarising his OPCAT inspections of 46 units in nine prisons during Alert Level 3.

One prison had a case of COVID-19 at the time of inspection.

“They have faced a number of complex challenges managing prisoners during this period. I feel they have responded to the pandemic in a well-resourced, balanced and efficient manner,” says Mr Boshier.

“In the prisons I inspected, the relationship between staff and prisoners was reasonably positive; health and safety measures aimed at preventing the spread of the disease were generally of a high standard; and steps had been taken to make sure everyone understood them.”

However, Mr Boshier says he made some recommendations for improving the conditions and treatment of prisoners in seven prisons.

“I found that some prisoners in some units at four prisons were not receiving access to at least one hour of fresh air on a daily basis, or in some cases were not being provided with activities to occupy their time,” he says.

“One prison was only able to provide some prisoners access to an hour of fresh air every other day. Some prisoners at another prison were unlocked for one hour a day but they only had access to fresh air on weekends.”

Mr Boshier says some prisoners have been kept separate from the general prison population as an infection control measure.

He says the Department of Corrections has accepted all of his recommendations.

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