Nearly five months since Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier laid bare "serious concerns" about the treatment and safety of inmates at the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison, the prison director has claimed safety as the number one priority.

In May, Boshier's report stated that prisoners in the ISU (Intervention and Support Units) could be seen on camera by staff and others when they are naked or using the toilet.

He also stated that prisoners continued to be monitored by CCTV, which he said needed to change to more active supervision.

"Last year, my inspectors observed footage of a prisoner being assaulted by two prisoners in the high-security yard. Although CCTV coverage was comprehensive, access to emergency call points within the yard was limited and the victim was unable to call for assistance.

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"Two years on, I am concerned that the safety of prisoners in the exercise yard continues to be solely monitored by CCTV."

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier's inspection of the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison earlier this year resulted in some procedural changes at the prison. Photo / File
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier's inspection of the Hawke's Bay Regional Prison earlier this year resulted in some procedural changes at the prison. Photo / File

Hawke's Bay Regional Prison director Leonie Aben said the prison had made changes regarding safety of prisoners in exercise yards since Boshier's inspection.

"Safety is our number one priority. Hawke's Bay Regional Prison has taken steps to move the CCTV monitors in high medium exercise yards to allow the control room officer to have greater direct visibility of the yards.

"Master control now also has the ability to monitor screens which has had the benefit of allowing staff to more frequently, physically, view yards as part of their rounds.

"This has now been incorporated into the normal routine and is monitored by principal corrections officers to ensure it is taking place."

She also acknowledged that balancing the dignity and privacy of prisoners in ISU with the preservation of life presented a "unique challenge".

"A piece of work has been completed by our chief custodial officer looking at research and international practices to support future actions.

"This has been received by the Ombudsman and Corrections is giving further consideration of international practices, legislative instruments and identifying potential options for enhancing privacy for prisoners in ISUs.

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"However at present Corrections does adhere to the legislation set out in the Corrections Act around the observation of some of our most troubled offenders in the ISU. This is done to keep these prisoners alive."

Chief custodial officer Neil Beales agreed and said Section 202 (b) of the Corrections Act 2004 provided for the use of visual recording of prisoners in areas such as the ISU, for reasons of safety.

"The people who are held in ISU are some of the most troubled prisoners under our management.

"These units have been specifically designed to reduce the ability to self-harm, with limited fixtures, and 24-hour camera surveillance to allow for continual observation and ensure the prisoner is unable to hurt themselves or commit suicide," Beales said.

"At-risk prisoners are also provided with special clothing and bedding, which also reduces opportunities for self-harm.

"Our staff do a difficult job in what are sometimes very difficult circumstances, including having to respond to medical emergencies upon finding an unresponsive prisoner.

"The response and management of these situations, including use of cameras, has saved lives in the past."

At the time of Boshier's inspection questions also came up about the "use of force" by guards and Hawke's Bay Regional Prison told Boshier the process would be reviewed.

Boshier said since his last inspection in 2016, three prisoners had died in the prison.

"One of these deaths occurred in March 2017 following staff using force to restrain the prisoner.

"I had called for the use of force at the prison to be reviewed after my last inspection, and I do so again."

In response, Aben said the individual who normally managed the "use of force" record-keeping was not on-site at the time of the Ombudsman's inspection and meant "some documentation was not available to the inspectors which would have contributed to better demonstrating the HBRP compliance with recording requirements", Aben said.

"This highlighted an issue for us at the prison and as a result, I have ensured that more staff have been included and upskilled in the management and oversight of use of force procedures."