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Kelvin Davis waiting to hear Corrections' side over judge's highly critical prison report

Kelvin Davis is still waiting to hear Corrections' "side of the story" after a judge's highly critical ruling over treatment of inmates at Auckland Women's Prison. 

Kelvin Davis - file. Source: 1 NEWS

Yesterday, Davis said he was asking for more information from Corrections over whether an investigation was needed. He is still waiting for that today. 

"I will make a decision based on what they come back to me with," he said. "The inspector is also investigating but I will wait until I hear what they have to say."

"It’s only fair that both sides of the story are heard," Davis said yesterday. 

Asked if he’d read Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton's report, Davis said, "yes I have, I have a copy on my desk". 

Earlier this week, Māori Party's Rawiri Waititi called for a ministerial inquiry into the treatment of inmates. 

Rawiri Waititi. Source: Getty

It was after a judge ruled some of the treatment of prisoners at Auckland Women's Prison was "excessive, degrading and fundamentally inhumane", in regards to being made to lie on the floor before getting food and making inmates show the exchange of each piece of clothing to officers "an unnecessary invasion of privacy and an affront to dignity".

It came after an RNZ investigation in November where an asthmatic woman was reportedly pepper sprayed and was forced to show her used sanitary products to male guards.

A report released last month on the same prison, Auckland Women’s Correctional Facility, found issues accessing necessary health services, a shortage of underwear, in particular bras, some prisoners not getting allocated outside time and women having to request a limited amount of sanitary items. 

The Office of the Inspectorate report urged Corrections to "act with pace" in considering the findings of the June 2020 inspection. 

The report also found that needs of some prisoners with disabilities were not always met and access to health services were "considerably affected by health and custodial staff shortages". 

"Some said they felt embarrassed when they needed to ask for further supplies. In some units, staff recorded the items provided to individual women," the report stated. 

There was a shortage of bras and the investigators spoke to one woman who had not received any toiletries or a change of clothes since she was arrested two days earlier. 

"Many wāhine told us they were issued with only one set of underwear and relied on family and friends to supply more, which can take time to arrive. Some said other wāhine who were being released may pass clothing and underwear on to others," the report read.

Women also could not consistently launder and dry their clothes, bedding and towels. It also found some high security prisoners were not receiving their minimum entitlement of at least one hour in the open air each day and had few opportunities for work or training. 

Women had a three-month wait for non-urgent dental appointments and women were not always prioritised for health appointments according to need. 

At the time of the release, Amnesty NZ’s Meg de Ronde said they already had concerns around health access and hygiene practices, and the report "absolutely supports those concerns". 

De Ronde said there was a culture in New Zealand prisons of dehumanisation - "Where tampons are seen as a luxury rather than a basic right, we have a problem."

"This has a massive impact on how people in prison feel. They’re already powerless, this will exacerbate behaviour issues."

On the lack of consistency of recording unlock hours, women not being given their one hour a day outside or having to use their unlock hour for purposes such as cleaning, de Ronde said there was no excuse not to meet "such a basic minimum entitlement".

"These are not issues that can just be swept under the carpet. These are real people."

She said treating people inhumanly could be problematic, with it needing to be remembered that people in prison would ultimately have to be reintegrated back into society. 

Green Party’s Golriz Ghahraman said the report underlined where the prison system was falling short. 

"The lack of prioritisation for health and dental appointments is dangerous. Delaying scheduled hospital appoints or waiting three months for access to non-urgent dental care could mean a small issue becomes an urgent or potentially life threatening one."

Chief Inspector Janis Adair said many of the concerns from the report had been addressed and others were being progressed. 

"I am confident that strong leadership will focus efforts to appropriately address the challenges of this site and ensure it is better equipped and supported to deliver a high-quality service."

In response to particular report, last month Davis noted the "challenges that the site has faced in recent years which has included an increase in the number of women with high and maximum security classifications, and the 100 per cent increase in the number of women on remand".

"Twenty-five percent of the women are also affiliated to a gang."

"There has also been some significant changes in the last six months including the appointment of a new parenting support service programme provider for the Mother and Baby unit, with a significant focus on a kaupapa Māori and whanau-centred approach, the permanent appointment of key health care staff, and an increase in the monitoring of prisoner complaints, with a strong focus on quick resolutions."

Davis said he was happy to hear there had been "significant progress made in the last six months since the inspection took place". 

Corrections’ Northern Regional Commissioner Lynette Cave said she was proud of the work done since the inspection. 

"Importantly, women reported to the inspectors that they felt generally safe from bullying and violence, which was reflected in the significant decrease in incidents of abuse, threats and assaults in the six-month period."

Cave said areas of focus included ensuring there was "every effort to increase time in the fresh air for women in high security" and the delivery of health services.