New Zealand prisoners have been subjected to degrading treatment, including being filmed while strip searched, being bullied and victimised by other prisoners, and sleeping in "deplorable" accommodation, a watchdog has found.

The Ombudsman's Office also found prisoners had endured drinking discoloured tap water, wearing dirty clothes and being held in handcuffs for an extended period of time.

The findings were made by Crimes of Torture Act inspectors from the Ombudsman's Office who made unannounced visits to Arohata, Manawatu, Invercargill and Otago prisons.

The reports were released for the first time today by Corrections, after the Herald requested to see the reports in April.

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The reports, written every year, cover issues including acts of torture; the use of seclusion; whether patients or prisoners are treated with dignity; and if they have access to enough light, air and water.

The Herald requested to see the reports in April while investigating the case of Ashley Peacock, an autistic man kept in prolonged seclusion at Capital & Coast District Health Board's secure Tawhirimatea unit, whose case was also reported on under the Act.

Corrections initially refused, saying to release the reports would impact the "safety and security" of prisoners and would "prejudice the maintenance of the law".

However, the Herald complained to the Ombudsman, who intervened, and Corrections was required to release one year's worth of reports - with redactions.

The reports are expected to cover the case of a prisoner who was tied to a bed for a long period of time, among other cases.

The tie-down bed incident is now under further investigation.

Otago Corrections Facility kept one prisoner in a waist restraint with his hands cuffed behind his back for around 21 hours a day for 10 weeks due to his self harming.

He was un-cuffed every two hours during the day and every four hours at night to stretch his muscles, shower or eat.

The report found this to be "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment". The effect of being constantly restrained was a tortuous experience causing huge mental and physical strain.

"The continued and prolonged use of handcuffs to manage an individual's self-harming behaviour is considered disproportionate and unreasonable and amounts to cruel and degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture."

The ability for staff and others to be able to observe prisoners in various stages of undress or using the toilet was a key finding in all reports. This could be done either directly or through camera footage. The camera feed from the safe cells in the Manawatu Prison can be observed from the communal walkway.

Nineteen prisoners reported they had been sexually assaulted in prison and nine said it occurred at OCF. Of the nine only two said they had reported the incident. Reasons for not reporting incidents included fear of reprisals; concern that staff wouldn't be able to protect them and the lack of positive support they had had in the past.

Most reports cited the lengthy time between the evening meal being served and breakfast being received as an issue. In Otago the prisoners are usually served breakfast at 8.30am, lunch at 11.30am and the evening meal can be served as early as 3.50pm. That means almost 17 hours can elapse between dinner and breakfast. The report found this arrangement to be "far from ideal".

"The serving of meals needs to be standardised to normal hours ... This would involve lunch being served any time between 12.00 pm and 1.30 pm, and dinner to be served any time between 5pm and 7pm."

Some prisoners went for weeks without stepping foot outside due to construction. In an Otago unit the offenders' backyard was used to store building supplies and access to the front year was not permitted.

The report urged alternative measures be found to ensure prisoners get their minimum entitlement to one hour's fresh air daily.

The accompanying Corrections media release stated that they are committed to managing all prisoners in a safe secure, humane and effective manner. They said they have rejected some of the reports' recommendations.

Arohata Prison

The Ombudsman's report found these issues needed to be addressed:

• Prison staff (and others) has the ability to observe prisoners, either directly or through camera footage undertaking their ablutions, in various stages of undress or being strip searched.
• Segregation and use of force paperwork was poor.
• Women on voluntary segregation are routinely placed on closed visits and locked for 20 plus hours a day.
• The police liaison officer does not routinely attend the Prison following serious incidents.
• There is a lengthy period between the evening meal being served and breakfast being received (even though two slices of bread and butter or a piece of fruit are provided for supper) which is not desirable.
• The prison shop offers limited healthy food options.
• Not all prisoners receive an hour's exercise in the fresh air daily.
• Women being subjected to strip searches can be monitored on camera.
• It can take several weeks for women to receive mail and property.
• There is no privacy for women using the telephone.
• Dental provision for women was inadequate.
• Some health complaints are being recorded in the general complaints system.
• On occasions, night staff can all be male officers.
• The security of the prison is of concern.

Manawatu Prison

The Ombudsman's report found these issues needed to be addressed:

• Many prisoners feel unsafe and describe a pervasive bullying culture amongst prisoners, particularly on [REDACTED] and [REDACTED]. Many do not report prisoner-on prisoner assaults.
• Prison staff (and others) have the ability to observe prisoners, either directly or through camera footage undertaking their ablutions or in various stages of undress. The camera feed from the safe cells can be observed from the communal walkway.
• Prisoners were placed on informal management plans, where Directed Segregation was warranted.
• Inspectors were concerned with the implementation of the informal progression system and could find no evidence to suggest it was being applied consistently, openly and fairly.
• The Use of Force register and segregation paperwork contained errors.
• The accommodation cells in [REDACTED], including the 'safe cells' and 'separates cells' are run-down and not fit for purpose.
• There was no contact information visible to prisoners for the Corrections Inspectorate or the Office of the Ombudsman.
• Some strip gowns, prisoner clothing, mattresses and bedding were in a state of disrepair. There was a lack of drinking cups for prisoners.
• There is a lengthy period between the evening meal being served and breakfast being received (even though two slices of bread and butter or a piece of fruit are provided for supper) which is not desirable.
• The prison shop (P119) is more expensive than other sites and offers limited healthy options.
• Tap water in areas of the prison was discoloured.
• There is a lack of constructive activities for remand accused, and voluntary segregated prisoners.
• Telephone access for prisoners in both was inadequate.
• Over 80 per cent of the prisoner information kiosks across the site were not working.
• Prisoners were not receiving their mail in a timely manner.
• Health services' funding is based on the previous year(s) expenditure as opposed to the annually assessed needs of the prison population. Prisoners (service users) are not consulted with regards to their health care needs.
• Dental provision for prisoners was inadequate.
• Forensic workers consultation notes were not being included in prisoner's health care records.
• Staff shortages were experienced on several wings, resulting in pressure on staff and increased lock-up times for prisoners.
• The combination of poor standard accommodation in [REDACTED], lack of constructive activities for remand accused prisoners and a pervasive bullying culture in [REDACTED] creates a detrimental environment for remand prisoners at Manawatu prison.

Invercargill Prison

The Ombudsman's report found these issues needed to be addressed:

• While there was no evidence that any prisoners had been subject to anything that could be construed as torture in the 12 months preceding the visit, I consider prison staff (and others) having the ability to observe prisoners through camera footage undertaking their ablutions to amount to degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.
• The combination of poor standard accommodation in both the Basement and North units, lack of constructive activities for remand-accused prisoners and a culture of victimisation and bullying on the remand yards creates a detrimental environment for remand prisoners; this amounts to cruel and degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.
• The accommodation cells in all units, but particularly the Basement and North Units were in a deplorable state. The double-bunked cells do not provide the required amount of space for two prisoners.
• There is an absence of recreational space for prisoners and office space for staff.
• Management plans for prisoners on Directed Segregation and those with At Risk status did not detail the required steps to transition back in to mainstream units.
• There is no meaningful therapeutic intervention for prisoners who are assessed as At Risk.
• Many prisoners feel unsafe and describe a culture of victimisation and intimidation amongst prisoners, particularly in the Basement and North Units exercise yards. A high number of prisoners do not report prisoner-on-prisoner assaults.
• A creeping regime exists at the Prison. Prisoners on North and Basement Units are locked by 4.15pm, despite the prison reporting it runs an 8-5 unlock regime.
• The complaints process did not appear to be functioning effectively.
• Some prisoners do not have access to a regular supply of clean clothes.
• There is a lengthy period between the evening meal being served and breakfast being received (even though two slices of bread and butter or a piece of fruit are provided for supper) which is not desirable.
• The prison shop (P119) offers limited healthy options.
• Prisoner Cell Location Checks (PCLCs) are not carried out at night.
• Some Right Track notes were not entered into IOMS.
• Health care complaints were being recorded in the main complaints system.
• Medication distribution needs to be more adequately supervised.
• There is a lack of dental provision for prisoners.
• There is no service-level agreement between the prison and regional forensic services.

Otago Correctional Facility

The Ombudsman's report found these issues needed to be addressed:

• While there was no evidence that any prisoners had been subject to anything that could be construed as torture in the 12 months preceding the visit, I consider prison staff (and others) having the ability to observe prisoners through camera footage undertaking their ablutions to amount to degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.
• The prolonged use of handcuffs to manage an individual's self-harming behaviour could be considered disproportionate and unreasonable and amounts to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for the purpose of the Convention Against Torture.
• The Prison has no segregation register (and corresponding paperwork) for prisoners on directed segregation.
• Prisoners on directed segregation are being managed in punishment cells.
• The Prison has no segregation register (and corresponding paperwork) for prisoners on voluntary segregation.
• Voluntary segregated prisoners (in the management unit) are being managed on a directed segregation regime with prisoners only receiving minimum entitlements.
• At risk prisoners have no input into their care planning (management plan) process.
• There is no meaningful therapeutic intervention for prisoners who are assessed as being 'at risk'.
• A reasonably high number of prisoners reported feeling unsafe in the prison.
• Not all misconduct paperwork was completed (by the adjudicator).
• There was no privacy in the receiving office for prisoners undergoing the at risk assessment.
• Some prisoners do not have access to a sufficient supply of clothes.
• A creeping regime exists at the Prison. Prisoners were generally locked up before the meals arrived around 3.50pm, despite the prison reporting it runs an 8-5 unlock regime.
• Not all prisoners have access to one hour fresh air daily.
• There is a lengthy period between the evening meal being served and breakfast being received which is not desirable.
• There is no separate health care complaints system.
• Medication distribution needs to be more adequately supervised.
• There is a lack of dental provision for prisoners.

Corrections responds

Corrections said many of the recommendations made by the Ombudsman had already been carried out and Corrections was continuing work to progress recommendations that require action. Some recommendations were not accepted.

Cameras
Corrections takes the matter of prisoner dignity and privacy seriously. All possible steps are taken to ensure that privacy is provided where it is possible and appropriate. Our paramount concern is to manage prisoners in a safe environment. Cameras are used in accordance with the Corrections Act 2004 and Corrections Regulations 2005, which state that sentences must be administered in a "safe, secure, humane, and effective manner."

Concerns about privacy in safe cells must be secondary to the risk posed to a prisoner's life. The ability of staff to remotely observe prisoners in safe cells has meant that on numerous occasions they have prevented a potential prisoner suicide or self harming incident.

For secure cells, camera footage is an important tool in order to provide evidence of a prisoner's actions and to protect staff from unfounded allegations.

Installation of privacy screens around the toilet area in the secure unit cells is not accepted as a recommendation because Corrections deems this would not be consistent with safe custodial management.

(Note: comments about cameras related only to safe or at-risk cells, and secure cells, not mainstream cells. At-risk or safe cells are used for prisoners at risk of self-harm or suicide.)

Cameras monitoring women being strip searched
The camera is to ensure the safety of staff while they are conducting searches, and is not intended to capture footage of women while they are being strip searched. The search area has been marked to ensure that the prisoners do not enter the view of the camera. Signage has been added to ensure that women know that if they stay behind the marked area, the camera cannot view them.

Prisoners feeling unsafe
While Corrections manages some of the country's most challenging and violent individuals, intimidation and threatening behaviour in prisons is not tolerated and any prisoner who exhibits such behaviour will be held to account.

Corrections has developed a Prison Tension Assessment Tool (PTAT) to help corrections officers assess the overall level of tension in units. This will enable actions to be taken where needed to reduce concerns.The PTAT tool has been trialled at prisons around NZ and been used by Invercargill Prison since September 2016.

At Manawatu Prison, a prisoner safety survey was completed. The site prisoner representative committee meet monthly with a Principal Corrections Officer to raise any concerns. They also meet with the Prison Director and other managers quarterly.

Complaints process
An enhanced complaints process for prisoners has been introduced. The process supports frontline staff to effectively resolve complaints at the lowest possible level, including being responsive to issues before they result in a complaint. A national Complaints Response Desk has been set up to support frontline staff with complaint resolution and field calls from prisoners and offenders before issues are escalated further. Prisoners and offenders will still be able to call the Corrections Inspectorate.

Prison Directors will ensure that all prisoners can readily access complaint forms. Prisoners are also able to call the 0800 INSPECTOR number and the Ombudsman to escalate a complaint if they have an issue with how their complaint has been handled.

Length of time between evening meal and breakfast
Current meal times meet operational requirements while taking into account staffing levels and unlock regimes. Section 72 of the Corrections Act 2004 requires that every prisoner is provided with "a sufficient quantity of wholesome food and drink based on the food and nutritional guidelines for the time being issued by the Ministry of Health." The section makes no reference to the times food is to be served. We consider that prisoner meals are sufficient in terms of quantity and quality. The current prison menus were developed with input from the Ministry of Health, Diabetes Life Education and the Heart Foundation in consultation with a clinical dietician. The menus provide adequate amounts of all food groups and vitamins and minerals. They are basic, nutritious and rotate every four weeks.

The prison shop (P119) offers limited healthy options
P119 purchases are intended to be in addition to the food provided by the Department for meals, which is considered to be a sufficient full diet in quantity and quality. There are sufficient numbers of healthy choices on the current list including fruit, muesli bars and nuts.

Arohata Prison - Balance of male/female staff at night
A review of male/female staffing ratio took place in February 2016 and as a result new female staff have been employed at Arohata Prison. There are now more female staff on the roster.