Latest COVID-19 update from Chief Inspector

Message from Janis Adair, Chief Inspector

Visits to prisons by my Inspectors restarted in late April after measures were put in place to ensure the safety of all involved during the COVID-19 emergency. Six visits have taken place and three more will happen this week. This will ensure that my inspectors have visited half the prisons in New Zealand over a short period of time.

Generally, during their visits, my inspectors noted positive interactions between prisoners and staff. There is a good shared understanding of the effects of COVID-19 and the importance of taking health and safety precautions. We found sites have good hygiene measures in place and staff are wearing PPE appropriately. Prisoners have been kept well informed. Prisoners have understandably spent more time in their cells, but this is starting to be eased under Alert Level 2.

The visits are short and focused. Their purpose is to ensure prisoners are being managed safely and humanely and in accordance with the Corrections Act and Corrections regulations as well as relevant parts of our Inspection Standards, which derive from the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (‘the Nelson Mandela Rules’).

The visits are carefully planned. An analysis of each site is carried out prior to the visit to inform the inspector. The visits cover the custodial and health environments and include discussions with prisoners and staff and assessments of various parts of the prison. At the conclusion of the site visit, a report is completed within five days and a summary report is provided to the Chief Executive.

During these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 emergency, inspectors of Corrections, as operationally independent and objective observers, play a critical role in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of people in the care of the Department of Corrections. It is important to respond at pace to the challenging environment.

From the first week of lockdown, the number of inspectors available to respond to complaints and issues raised was doubled and the Inspectorate moved to a seven day a week operation.

Visits to prisons by inspectors were paused while measures were put in place to ensure the safety of all involved. Prisons, by their nature, are places where people are in close contact with each other and unable to leave. Given the close confinement, careful measures had to be taken to mitigate against the transmission of infection. While international human rights law allows for emergency measures to be taken in response to significant threats, these measures must be proportionate to the evaluated risk, necessary and respectful to human dignity.

While this is for us and many others across the world, unchartered territory, we are committed to ensuring that prisoners are treated in a fair, safe, secure and humane way, despite the many challenges we face as a result of the global crisis. These principles are, and must always be, non-negotiable.