23 Feb 2016

Lawyers call for better prison access

10:00 am on 23 February 2016

Defence lawyers in Waikato are complaining it is virtually impossible to have contact with their clients in Spring Hill Prison.

Prison bars

Photo: RNZ

The prison, about an hour north of Hamilton, is used to house most remand prisoners from the region - who used to be sent to the remand centre at Waikeria Prison.

Lawyers have said trying to contact clients by phone is very difficult and the lack of video conferencing facilities in a modern prison is hard to understand.

Hamilton defence lawyer Roger Laybourn said it was necessary for lawyers to have regular contact with clients in jail but making that contact was fraught with difficulties.

Thomas Sutcliffe

Thomas Sutcliffe Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

"I very rarely have success getting past the answer phone."

He was backed up by another defence lawyer, Thomas Sutcliffe.

"I will leave messages because I am told my client is not available and I am assured the messages are being passed on, and very rarely do those calls get returned," Mr Sutcliffe said.

One of the problems is that Spring Hill Prison, which was opened in 2007, doesn't have audio-visual conferencing, which links prisons with courthouses and allows lawyers to talk with clients.

Mr Laybourn said this put both prisoners and their lawyers at a considerable disadvantage.

Hamilton lawyer Roger Laybourn

Roger Laybourn Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

"I, for instance, can book calls with clients at other prisons around the country. Why can't I do the same at Spring Hill? I don't understand."

Not long after the remand centre was closed at Waikeria Prison, prisoners were being driven from Spring Hill back to Waikeria to use the audio-visual facilities there so they could talk to their lawyers at the courthouse in Hamilton, Mr Sutcliffe said.

While this had stopped, he said, the lack of audio-visual links (AVL) at Spring Hill posed other issues.

"They continue to bring inmates from Spring Hill and drive them to Waikeria Prison to appear via AVL in the Hamilton District Court. That makes no sense to anybody."

The Corrections Department said, in order to run the prison in a safe and efficient manner, there were a number of regimes operating in the prison. These included the daily activities that prisoners took part in and meant that lawyers were sometimes unable to contact their clients immediately, it said.

Spring Hill Prison director Chris Lightbown said it was investigating ways to make contact between lawyers and their clients easier.

As for an AVL link, Mr Lightbown said a suite was being built at Spring Hill and it should be ready for use in June.

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