Inspectorate report shows prisoners denied entitlement to daily time out of cells

17 April 2024

A report from the Office of the Inspectorate shows that prisoners in three units at Auckland Prison were not able to leave their cells every day for many months.

For up to nine months (until mid-July 2023), prisoners in three units were denied their minimum entitlement to an hour out of their cell every day, instead being largely managed on a regime where they were unlocked every second day. For 107 of these men, this regime lasted longer than 100 days, and for 24 men it lasted more than 200 days.

Under the Corrections Act 2004, prisoners are entitled to a minimum of one hour of exercise daily out of their cell. The unlock regime arose largely because of staff shortages, which have been an issue across the entire prison network since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Minimum entitlements are a statutory legal requirement not a privilege,” said Chief Inspector Janis Adair. “It is concerning that Auckland Prison continued a regime for an extended period of time in which prisoners were intentionally not unlocked daily. There appeared to be no plan that resulted in meaningful action to return to meeting the minimum entitlement. As time passed, the situation appeared to have become normalised, as the competing priorities of staff shortages and staff and prisoner safety were managed.”

This special investigation examined the minimum entitlements received by prisoners in units 11, 12 and 13 of Auckland Prison. The restrictive unlock regime began in late 2022 and early 2023.

Unit 11 comprises the Special Needs Unit and Intervention and Support Unit, which are used for prisoners of all security classifications. Units 12 and 13 accommodate mainly maximum security prisoners. All three units accommodate both sentenced and remand prisoners. There was capacity for 246 prisoners across the three units. On average during the review period there were 190 prisoners in the units.

From 8 October 2022, prisoners in unit 12 were generally only unlocked from their cells every second day. This regime extended to unit 13 on 28 December 2022, and to unit 11 on 5 January 2023 (in the Special Needs Unit) and 11 February 2023 (in the Intervention and Support Unit).

The regime did not meet the minimum entitlement for prisoners to be unlocked daily for an hour of physical exercise, as prescribed in section 70 of the Corrections Act 2004.

The affected prisoners are likely to have experienced solitary confinement as defined in the Mandela Rules (“more than 22 hours a day without meaningful human interaction”), which prohibits solitary confinement in excess of 15 days. The impacts of prolonged isolation include lethargy, impaired concentration, depression and anxiety, and anger and irritability.

This investigation found that 107 prisoners were likely subject to solitary confinement in excess of 100 days, and 24 men for more than 200 days.

As well as time out of cell, the minimum entitlement to sufficient bedding was not met for all prisoners, neither was the minimum entitlement to have private visits. Also, the length of time between dinner and breakfast ranged up to 17 hours, and prisoners complained they were hungry at night.

The site also had challenges providing health services, particularly for prisoners accessing and receiving care. This not only impacted on physical health, but also mental health and well being.

The investigation found that minimum entitlements were generally being met for sending and receiving mail, making personal telephone calls, and access to library services.

The investigation made three recommendations, which have been accepted by the Department.


  1. Corrections must take a ‘lessons learned’ approach to the decisions and actions taken at the site, region and national level in response to the decision to deny minimum entitlements and the regime that was operating in units 11,12 and 13 of Auckland Prison during the review period.
  2. Corrections must review this report, and its conclusion, and consider how to respond to the prolonged denial of minimum entitlements for prisoners accommodated in units 11,12 and 13 during the review period. This should carefully consider the individual circumstances of each prisoner and, where they remain in units 11, 12 and 13, their progression pathway.
  3. In any future occurrence when Corrections denies minimum entitlements (particularly as it did in this case for a prolonged period, involving many prisoners) it must put in place a national response plan to support the site to address the underlying causative factors, with the aim of ensuring the site moves quickly to restoring an operating regime of, at least, delivering minimum entitlements at the earliest possible opportunity.
  4. Any decision to deny minimum entitlements must be documented in writing by the decision maker at the time the decision is taken, setting out the rationale for the decision. The national response plan must be robustly documented, with actions and action owners identified and timeframes for delivery established from the outset.
  5. The plan must also be subject to ongoing scrutiny by an internal assurance mechanism, to ensure that progress on actions is both timely and appropriate.
  6. The decision to continue to deny minimum entitlements must also be reviewed daily by the Prison Director or delegate, and a record made of the decision together with the rationale for that decision.

Corrections’ response to the recommendations is appended at page 67.