Northland prison breached the Convention against Torture by restricting prisoners’ access to toilets and water while they were exercising, with inmates resorting to urinating and defecating in the compound, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has found.
Mr Boshier has tabled a report in Parliament on an unannounced inspection of the Northland Regional Corrections Facility conducted in February.
He says high security prisoners were transferred out of the prison in 2013 and it now houses prisoners with lower security classifications and those on remand awaiting trial.
"Yet many of the processes and practices were more suited to a high security setting and were impeding achievement of the prison’s vision to develop a Kaupapa Māori based culture to support tāne to take their proper place in the community," he says.
Mr Boshier says population pressures and staff shortages have also served to limit progress.
"The unintended consequences of persisting with some practices had an adverse impact on the treatment of prisoners."
Mr Boshier says one example was an instruction that cell doors were locked while prisoners were exercising in the compound to reduce prisoner-on-prisoner assaults.
Inspectors found that prisoners were resorting to urinating and, on occasion, defecating in the compound because of a lack of toilet facilities.
Inspectors were advised by staff of a restriction on access to drinking water in the yard - prisoners were not allowed to take water bottles or drinks containers there and instead to use the drinking fountain which was integrated into the yard’s lavatory. The Prison Director was unaware of the situation and immediately revoked the restriction.
"Restricting prisoners’ access to toilets and water is unacceptable and current mitigations were inadequate. I consider this to be degrading treatment and a breach of Article 16 of the Convention against Torture," Mr Boshier says.
He says prisoners complained the most about cell conditions, specifically high temperatures and a lack of ventilation.
Inspectors found cell temperatures exceeding 28C and the kitchen was 38C.
Prisoners and staff reported long-standing shortages of both clothing and bedding.
Although 47 per cent of the prison’s population was Māori, cultural provision was limited.
"Relationships between the prison and iwi were fragile however, I am encouraged to learn of the willingness of all parties to overcome difficulties and provide a strong response to shared challenges," Mr Boshier says.
"My Inspectors observed generally positive interactions between staff and prisoners. Continuity of leadership, developing partnerships with iwi, and meeting performance standards consistently, will enable the prison’s potential to be achieved."
The Department of Corrections has accepted 28 of the Chief Ombudsman’s 31 recommendations.