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Prison “very unpleasant”

Under-staffing at Rimutaka Prisons remains dire, with only two new personnel hired since November, when the Times-Age reported prison director Dennis Goodin saying there were 55 frontline vacancies at the facilities.

Department of Corrections national commissioner Leigh Marsh has confirmed to the Times-Age that “there are currently 53 frontline custodial vacancies … out of 379 established positions”.

Although the department had received a large number of applications, Marsh said, applicants need to undergo in-depth checks, and it takes an average of 77 days between application and appointment to a role.

Marsh said the ongoing staffing challenges at Rimutaka Prison – which Masterton Judge Barbara Morris observed during a hearing last month is resulting in “very, very unpleasant” conditions for prisoners – was negatively affecting the ability to safely provide services at the prison, including rehabilitation programmes, training and education, visits, and ‘unlock’ hours.

This has meant some Rimutaka prisoners have remained on 23-hour lockdown for almost six months, while other inmates have complained of human rights breaches because they continue
to be denied family visits.

Corrections are committed to ensuring minimum entitlements are met, and peoples’ rights are upheld, Marsh said, although he also noted that minimum entitlements could be denied to people in prison in circumstances specified in legislation.

“Staff must assess and manage a range of operational requirements on a daily basis relating to prisoners that can be unlocked together, including whether they are remand or sentenced prisoners, whether they are segregated or mainstream, their security classification and other dynamic issues such as gang tension and the association of co-offenders,” Marsh said.

“As a result, this may mean that there are times when ‘unlocks’ are staggered at different times of the day.”

Marsh said Rimutaka prisoners were receiving their minimum entitlement in terms of time out of their cells each day – which means “each prisoner is unlocked for at least an hour and a half per day” – although some units “such as our low-security units are running normal ‘unlock’ hours [of] approximately eight or nine hours per day”.

Marsh said the department understood the impact the lockdown might have on prisoners, and it was working on reducing the length of time between daily exercise hours in the coming months.

Public safety was a top priority, Marsh said, and there was enough capacity to manage anyone who is remanded in corrections’ custody.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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