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Rimutaka Prison desperately short of staff

Tensions at Rimutaka Prison could be approaching a breaking point as staff shortages put pressure on guards, see inmates spending almost the whole day inside their cells and has the Human Rights Commission “deeply concerned”.
It follows what has been a dramatic year at the prison, including a breakout and allegations of misconduct. Now the prison is facing serious staffing shortages, with Rimutaka prison director Dennis Goodin saying there are currently 55 frontline vacancies.
“Rimutaka Prison is currently operating under an alternative roster in response to reduced staffing levels.
“Prisoners in the high-security units are receiving a minimum of 1.5 hours out of their cell per day. This is currently affecting 428 prisoners, but this number fluctuates daily due to releases, arrivals and court decisions.”
Prisoners are entitled to a minimum of one hour of physical exercise every day.
Low-security units were operating at normal hours meaning that, on average, prisoners were out of their cells for about eight – nine hours a day.
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission said Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt was deeply concerned with the impact of the ongoing limitations on the amount of time prisoners were allowed to spend out of their cells.
“The Chief Commissioner is concerned that many prisoners are unable to have in-person visits from whanau and some prisons have stopped or severely limited access to the many rehabilitation programmes.
“These issues all stem from staff shortages at Corrections.”
They said the commission was continuing to engage with Corrections and advocate that limitations on prisoner rights were remedied expediently.
“Face-to-face visits with whanau and rehabilitation programmes are a human right. If Corrections are putting a limit on that human right, it must be temporary and short-lived.
“They must provide a timeline for reinstating visiting rights.”
As at 15 November 2022, there were 322 custodial full time equivalent [FTE] staff employed at Rimutaka Prison. Given the current prison capacity of 740, Rimutaka would need 377 FTE staff to be at full compliment.
There were 689 prisoners at Rimutaka Prison as of yesterday.
Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis said addressing staff shortages was a top priority.
“The impact of covid was felt greatly throughout the prison system, with officers doing fantastic work in tough conditions. This has been followed by a labour shortage impacting not only Corrections, but industries across New Zealand and the world.
“It is a shortage that impacts staff and prisoners, which is why I have made it clear to Corrections that this is a top priority.”
Davis said Corrections had taken this seriously.
“A huge boost in recruitment began a few months ago and has recently ramped up with television advertising.
“It takes three months to train a Corrections officer, so there is no quick fix.”
Goodin said that Rimutaka Prison had moved some prisoners to other sites to alleviate pressure.
“Like many other agencies and businesses, we have experienced a number of inter-connected challenges, with covid-19 stress, border closures and record-low unemployment rates making it more challenging to recruit and retain staff.
“To respond to this, and as covid-19 cases in prisons have now dropped considerably across the country, we have been temporarily moving some men and women to different prisons to alleviate pressure on staff at our most affected sites to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing is not put at risk.
“This is also about making sure we can increase minimum entitlements.”
Goodin said that to address the problem DOC was actively working to recruit new corrections officers throughout New Zealand. He said that over the past three months they had received over 1400 applications.
“We are making a concerted effort to recruit, retain and train staff.
“This includes the strengthening of recruitment processes, improving our onboarding processes, and implementing new rosters which provide our staff with better work-life balance and help them avoid fatigue, and continuously working to improve staff safety,” he said.

George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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