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Chief Ombudsman to investigate Corrections over prison conditions

The Department of Corrections is under investigation from the Chief Ombudsman for how it responded to repeated calls for reforms to improve conditions for prisoners.

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Peter Boshier says Corrections is moving away from rehabilitating inmates, and some prisons don’t seem to be open to change. Source: Breakfast

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, who announced the investigation this morning, said he's not “seen significant and sustained improvements to prisoners’ welfare and rehabilitation" in many areas.

"This is despite concerns about conditions being raised by me and others at different levels of the department, and report after report being released calling for change,” he said.

"I simply want to know why."

Boshier said he notified Corrections CEO Jeremy Lightfoot of the investigation last week.

He said his systemic investigation will be independent, wide-ranging and take a year to complete.

"I want to find out why problems continue to exist across the whole prison network and how the department is genuinely taking action to address these,” he said.

"I have become increasingly concerned about seeing the same issues coming up time and time again.

"I now need to determine if there are any system-wide issues in the department that may be preventing it from making changes that I and other oversight agencies have been calling for."

Speaking on Breakfast, Boshier said the "systemic investigation" was needed because he found it "difficult to understand" why some prisons were "exemplars", but others were reluctant to change, despite his office's recommendations. 

“When I make recommendations ... by and large agencies in New Zealand, because of the gravitas of our office, accept and implement them," he said.

"I find it more difficult, often, to get that traction and that change with Corrections."

To the people who said it didn't matter what condition inmates lived in, Boshier said it was important to remember most prisoners would eventually be released. 

He said prisons must emphasise rehabilitation if prisoners are to integrate back into society successfully. 

“We've seen a decline in the emphasis on rehabilitation in a number of prisons.”

Boshier said New Zealand also needed to meet the obligations of the UN conventions for human rights it signed up to.

The investigation will look into what the department has done to address the treatment and conditions of people held in all correctional facilities and constructive activity opportunities including education, employment, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.

Performance monitoring and review processes, such as complaints management, oversight of segregation orders, use of force reviews, and other operational or incident reviews would also be under investigation.