22 Mar 2021

Corrections denies culture problem, but will pay compensation for 'degrading' treatment

From Checkpoint, 5:21 pm on 22 March 2021

Corrections' Northern Regional Commissioner has acknowledged the department was acting outside the law, but she does not think there is a culture problem among officers.

Auckland Women's Prison faces a major overhaul of the way it handles inmates after revelations by RNZ about the degrading and inhumane treatment of inmate Mihi Bassett and other women at the prison.

Corrections has also issued a rare apology to Bassett over her treatment, which included being pepper sprayed in her cell multiple times, having to lie on the ground to be fed, and being held unlawfully in the prison pound for months. 

Bassett lived through conditions that Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton today described as a concerted effort by Corrections to break her spirit

"We have met with the three women involved, I've met with them personally and offered a heartfelt apology and I'm deeply sorry that for those women, we must be better," Corrections Northern Regional Commissioner Lynette Cave told Checkpoint.

Corrections was acting outside of the law in the treatment of the women, Cave acknowledged.

"We didn't follow our own processes... we weren't in accordance with the Corrections Act," she said.

Compensation is a process "we will work through with the women involved," Cave said.

"The most important thing was to apologise and then we will do a formal apology, offer counseling support. And as part of that, there will be a financial redress."

There were more than 10 Corrections officers who would have dealt with Bassett during the time she was in segregation at the prison, Cave said.

"There were some concerns raised and that went through the management plans, but we are talking about a wider systemic issue here.

"We didn't follow our own policies and procedures, we let ourselves down and we are really deeply sorry for that."

Despite that, Cave said Corrections does not have a culture problem among officers. She said "terrific mahi" was happening with many wāhine at Auckland Women's Prison.

In the treatment of Bassett, Cave said officers were "managing some really complex, difficult challenging behaviour. Yes, there was over 10 corrections officers involved".

"When we look back at it, what happened was wrong."

No officers have been disciplined over the treatment of Bassett and other women, Cave said.

"We are focusing on the women in our care to make sure that they are supported in the journey."