'Challenges' at women's prison being addressed - inspector

6:20 pm on 27 January 2021

Inmates are missing out on easy access to sanitary items, bras, underwear and exercise, an inspection of Auckland Women's Prison has concluded.

The Intervention & Support Unit at Auckland Region Women’s Correctional Facility (ARWCF)

The Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility (file image). Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The Office of the Inspectorate's report into Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility highlighted a number of "challenges" within the prison.

The findings from the report show sanitary items were not always readily available and the women weren't given adequate quantities of underwear - sometimes it was the wrong size.

It also highlighted issues with access to exercise, laundry facilities and inconsistent unlock hours.

RNZ has previously reported stories of women being forced to wash clothes, bedding and towels in the bath and prisoners kept in their cells for up to 29 hours.

The findings showed that some inmates from high security were still not getting the minimum entitlement of one hour in the open air each day.

Other women who generally receive at least one hour out of their cell each day, often used this time for cleaning and making telephone calls rather than exercise.

"Time out of cell for other activities should be in addition to any hour allocated for exercise," the report said.

Chief inspector Janis Adair said the report showed a number of challenges at at the site, specifically around the number of maximum security, high security and remand prisoners.

Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility in Wiri

The Office of the Inspectorate's report into Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility highlighted a number of "challenges" within the prison (file image). Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

"Other challenges include needing to improve the outside exercise yards for the high security units."

The report lists 96 findings some of which included prisoners not having their health appointments prioritised according to need, and having to wait three months for access to non-urgent dental appointments.

It also noted that women in the high security unit would often receive cold food and some of them were made to eat in their cells.

Adair said she was pleased most women felt safe from bullying and violence, and health staff were professional and compassionate.

But standovers occurred in the Remand and high security units for lozenges or personal clothing items.

Staffing shortages

At the time of the inspection, the prison was short of 46 fulltime employees to reach a full staffing level.

Only 55 percent of the nursing roles were filled with seven registered nurse positions vacant.

Employees at the prison told the inspectorate, insufficient staff numbers made it hard to give the level of care required, but that morale was improving after the appointment of a fulltime prison director.

Adair said the appointment of Steve Parr in April and strong leadership in key senior positions would help to address the challenges at the site.

"Since the inspection I have been closely following developments at the site. Many of the concerns have been addressed and others are being progressed."

Improved recruiting

The Department of Corrections national commissioner, Rachel Leota, responded to the report and addressed some of the findings.

Recruitment in health services had progressed well, she said.

"Registered nurse vacancies have reduced with only three fulltime vacancies at this time.

"These vacancies are currently mitigated through temporary secondments of three experienced staff from another local site which means ARWCF [Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility] are currently operating as a full team."

Women were no longer being served cold food, she said. "It is now delivered later in the day and served more quickly."

She told the the Officer of the Inspectorate that she "looked forward to sharing the progress of ARWCF continue to make in lifting their performance in all areas".

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