Sudden searches discover “deeply troubling” cases in Barremurimo Auckland prison

New ward in Oakland Prison in Barimormo. Photo / Jesse Chiang / RNZ

by RNZ

A report on New Zealand’s only maximum-security prison has exposed countless problems and appears to be failing to deliver on promises to boost rehabilitation.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boucher inspected the Oakland Prison in Barremurimo without warning and found “a number of things that were very troubling” – including that prisoners were held in cells for 22 to 23 hours a day, although new units were opened to help restore Qualification.

in a Transfer Boucher, who was released today during his visit, said he found a number of issues of great concern, including a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“We are not achieving what we want to accomplish in terms of our commitments. That is why I am fairly clear in my criticisms.

“There appears to be a serious and unacceptable lack of ventilation, exacerbated by the impending summer heat, in low- and high-security units.

“Sprinkling pepper on one of the prisoners, after he followed the officers’ orders, was unjustified and amounted to cruel treatment.

“Moreover, the employees failed to accurately report the incident that was recorded on the CCTV. This is worrying because the staff are receiving control and restraint training.”

In a detailed account of what happened in the pepper spraying incident, Boucher said video footage of the checkpoint showed that a prisoner tampered with the spray, retreated to the back of his cell and complied when officers asked him to disembark.

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“Then it was sprinkled with pepper. The prison officers wrote a report about it and played down what had happened and downplayed what had happened.”

This is unacceptable, Boucher said.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boucher.
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boucher.

“I would like to see that it is routine that when a prison officer begins to deal with a prisoner, the [body] The camera is on, so the important starting part is captured. Let’s hope the use of body cameras in this setup becomes routine and exceptional. ”

He said that long periods of time in apartheid meant that prisoners had fewer opportunities to demonstrate good behavior.

“I consider this extended stay in Class Oriented as inappropriate and exceeding the 15 days stipulated in the Nelson Mandela Rules.

“I cannot see how one would try to normalize a prisoner in this place when you have been in this very artificial and oppressive situation all that time.”

A survey of inmates revealed that 35 percent said they had been assaulted, and 13 percent had been sexually assaulted in prison.

“A large number of prisoners sought voluntary separation due to gang problems, bullying, standing up, and fear for personal safety.”

Boucher told Checkpoint that the report was “disappointing” and that the prison “did not actually achieve the goals it was set for.”

“There are big challenges ahead, we need strong leadership.

He said the high-security units at the Parmorimo site, which opened in July 2018, were intended to help rehabilitate prisoners but who had been unable to access rehabilitation and education programs.

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He said there were privacy issues, with CCTV in all areas of the Intervention Support Unit, including toilets.

He said employment problems had resulted in lost opportunities for the inmates, including appointments to the parole board, work and income, and their case managers.

“Staff vacancies and unplanned leave, particularly in high-security, high-security units, also mean that the safety of both prisoners and staff can be jeopardized.”

More than a third of the staff have less than two years of experience as well, which means that relationships with prisoners have been “largely transactional.”

“Only after a while I would suggest as a prison officer that you learn how to manage and how to do it in a comprehensive manner.

“I think you can look at Covid-19 and lockdown while reducing the availability of prison guards and introducing a greater lockdown system, because that was practical and practical – unfortunately, I think this just continued.”

On the other hand, Boucher noted that there were some good practices in prison – such as not having a double bed.

The Chief Ombudsman made 37 recommendations, 33 of which were accepted by the Corrections Department and partially accepted four.

The corrections informed Boucher that she had been implementing his recommendations since the inspection earlier this year, including hiring more staff.

Boucher visited the prison on December 1 to check on progress.

“In my view, the Corrections Department’s intention to shift its operating model away from containing difficult prisoners has not materialized. I expect to see significant improvement in conditions for prisoners who are under heavy guard.”

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