3 Dec 2015

Changes made since critical Mt Eden report - Corrections

4:55 pm on 3 December 2015

Teenage inmates at Mt Eden prison are now allowed out of their cells for up to five hours a day, a Department of Corrections manager says.

A cell at Auckland Prison.

Photo: RNZ

Northern Regional Commissioner Jeanette Burns said there had been changes since a critical report on teenage incarceration carried out by the Ombudsman.

When the Ombudsman's prison inspector went to Mt Eden in April last year there were 18- and 19-year-old prisoners being held in cells for 19 hours a day. Since that visit, Corrections has closed Waikeria Prison's youth unit and the young prisoners on remand are now sent to Mt Eden.

The Ombudsman's annual report found Corrections had not set up a youth unit and teenagers were still locked up with adult inmates. They were allowed out for just one or two hours a day.

Ms Burns said the latest report was based on information from April this year, when Mt Eden was being managed by the private company Serco.

The department had made changes since taking back control of the facility from Serco in July, she said.

Nine youths aged up to 17 were in the jail at present and were held in one unit. Ms Burns did not have the number of 18- and 19-year-olds at the facility.

"For all of them, they're out a minimum of three-and-a-half hours a day and up to five hours a day."

Ms Burns said the teenage remand prisoners were "the most serious of offenders" and Mt Eden was a suitable facility for them.

"These are remand prisoners so if and when they get sentenced they will be moved, and they'll be moved to a sentence facility where we do have dedicated youth units."

Minister of Corrections Sam Lotu-Iiga said it was unacceptable to have teenagers locked up for 23 hours a day, but that situation at Mt Eden prison had been remedied.

"Right now at Mt Eden prison there are nine youths ..... and they are getting between 3 and a half hours and five hours a day."

Mr Lotu-Iiga said he was waiting for the Chief Inspector of Corrections' report into Serco's performance, before he decided if it still had his confidence to run Mt Eden.