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Source: Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

Official Information including a Corrections’ review of Auckland Region Women’s Correctional Facility (ARWCF) released under the Official Information Act by RNZ’s Guyon Espiner has revealed worse-than-thought conditions behind bars at the prison. Amnesty International is calling for Corrections Minister Hon Kelvin Davis to take responsibility and address the shortfalls. 
The information reveals that use of force at the prison was too readily used rather than being used as a last resort. It also includes further revelations about lockdown hours, specifically that the breaches occurred more often than initially thought, and that breaches occurred pre-COVID-19 national lockdown. The information has also brought to light serious limitations in access to healthcare, and workplace issues that have created a problematic environment for staff.
Amnesty International Executive Director Meg de Ronde says just because someone’s behind bars does not mean their human rights are less important.
“We are all human and we expect to be treated as such. Collectively, we have to treat others with the same dignity and hope that we expect for ourselves. This extends to people in detention. Whilst their liberty is taken away, they are still human and are entitled to other human rights protections. Human rights are for everyone, no matter our backgrounds.”
De Ronde says the information reveals a culture of dehumanisation.
“Denying basic human rights does not happen in a vacuum. It begins with a culture, such as women being called by their surnames rather than their first names. This can escalate into not using force as a last resort, or not following up on complaints internally. All of these were identified as issues in the review which is deeply troubling. This kind of culture in a prison erodes standards over time and denies the humanity and dignity of people in detention for both prisoners and prison staff working there.”
She says the information also reveals significant issues in access to healthcare for women at ARWCF.
“People in prison are entitled to equivalent access to healthcare as anyone outside prison under domestic and international law. The review indicates that women at ARWCF are not always getting timely and adequate access to medicine and healthcare professionals and it’s evident it’s affecting their quality of life. One woman claims she had to wait six weeks for an inhaler and even then only got one by buying it off another woman in prison. We can see what might be contributing to this when we look at staffing numbers. There’s only one nurse for every 28 prisoners at ARWCF – this is less than half the nurse ratio at other prisons. This is even more concerning when we consider the prison holds over two-thirds of the female prison population in Aotearoa. The Government has an obligation to ensure the right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health and to ensure that working conditions for prison staff are safe, healthy, and not demeaning to human dignity.
De Ronde adds the revelations only came after continued badgering from journalists and civil society groups including Amnesty International.
“While the information above relates to just one prison, this begs the question of what else might be revealed from reviews of other prisons across the country. This information along with other investigations into minimum entitlements suggests serious, systemic issues. For example, when asked about whether or not prisoners were getting the bare minimum of time outside of their cells, the Minister gave assurances that minimum entitlements were being upheld in the majority of cases. However information released under the OIA shows that this was false and that CCTV footage at AWRCF had to be reviewed because the information wasn’t even being recorded properly. This is particularly concerning when it took dogged determination over many months from civil society to get information from only one prison. This not only shows how important access to information is, but also that there is what I’d call, serious negligence. While we appreciate there are pockets of positive change happening in some areas, the systemic problems in the system require comprehensive change and strong political leadership from the Minster.
“We now ask Corrections Minister Hon Kelvin Davis to step up, take responsibility and address these shortfalls.”