Inmates at Whanganui Prison generally feel safe from violence and intimidation, a report has found.

The Office of the Inspectorate this week released its inspection report for Whanganui Prison.

The report found that, in general, Whanganui Prison had a well-maintained physical environment and met prisoners' basic needs for food, shelter, clothing and bedding.

However, some of the units were poorly ventilated and prone to overheating.

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Throughout the prison, staff appeared highly active and engaged in supervising and managing prisoners, the report said.

The inspection identified that prisoners were kept safe throughout the prison.

"In the period before our site visit gang tensions had been heightened due to a shooting in the community," the report said.

"Staff managed these tensions effectively by keeping prisoners from rival factions apart."

The report's release comes just a year after Whanganui Prison was forced to ramp up efforts to curb violence after a report by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier found there was "a clear and urgent need for the prison to address the levels of violence and intimidation".

That report, in September 2018, found two of the prison's units had the highest number of recorded assaults of all the department's lower north region facilities.

The Office of the Inspectorate report, released this week, said of the 225 prisoners in high security units as at July 31, 2018, 104 were identified as having gang affiliations. The most common gangs were Mongrel Mob (34.9 per cent of the prison's gang population) and Black Power (26.9 per cent).

"Throughout the prison, staff appeared highly active and engaged in supervising and managing prisoners," the report said.

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"Prisoners had adequate time out of their cells in all units, and the prison placed considerable emphasis on ensuring that all prisoners – including those in high security units – had access to rehabilitation and training opportunities.

"The prison had also increased its emphasis on ensuring that prisoners were ready for parole once they reached their eligibility date."

Corrections Chief Custodial Officer Neil Beales said one of the most pleasing aspects of the report concerned the environment created at the site.

"It was especially good to note that the Inspectorate found that prisoners ... generally felt safe from violence and intimidation," Beales said.

"The high security units at Whanganui house some of the most challenging people at the prison but the Chief Inspector indicated that prisoners found staff approachable and had received comprehensive inductions into the unit."

The inspection was carried out in September 2018.

It found the prison placed considerable emphasis on ensuring that all prisoners had access to rehabilitation and training opportunities. A significant proportion of prisoners were engaged in industry, treatment and/or learning programmes.

Whanganui Prison, near Kaitoke, Whanganui. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Whanganui Prison, near Kaitoke, Whanganui. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The prison's wrap-around programme for young Māori prisoners was innovative and showed promising initial results, the report said.

While health care services were good, the Inspector found nursing staff faced challenges at Whanganui when others were on leave and there was a lack of space for consultations.

"A dedicated resource has since been assigned to co-ordinate Health Unit movements and health staff have access to more rooms across the site for routine consultations, reducing the number of escorts to the Health Unit," Beales said.

Staff said they were proactive in controlling contraband and prisoners confirmed this with inspectors. However, one prisoner said contraband was easy to obtain – he had recently been caught smoking cannabis. And during the inspection a shank was discovered in a vacated cell.

Prisoners in most of the units told inspectors there was little contraband (such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, tattoo equipment and cellphones) in their units.

The report said prisoners found the prisoner escort vehicles small and uncomfortable and they were being transported for considerable periods of time with no access to toilet facilities.

Ten prisoners interviewed by inspectors raised concerns about transport. This included four who said the cubicles were too small and five who said the journey was very rough, uncomfortable or painful. Several mentioned the lack of a toilet.

The report said each prisoner escort vehicle cubicle had a floor drain, which was not intended as a toilet but prisoners sometimes used it for that purpose.

The entrance to Whanganui Prison. Photo / File
The entrance to Whanganui Prison. Photo / File

Following the inspection, the National Commissioner advised that planned rest stops were needed for long haul escorts.

The site would monitor escorts and journey plans to ensure breaks were being planned appropriately.

Corrections said it was reviewing the national prisoner escort vehicle standards and specifications and the Inspectorate's findings would inform this review. New standards and specifications were expected to be implemented by June 2020.

Corrections said inspections were carried out against a set of healthy prison standards derived from United Nations guidelines on the treatment of people in detention, known as the Nelson Mandela Rules. These standards considered all aspects of prison life, with a particular focus on four guiding principles: safety, respect, rehabilitation and reintegration.

Healthy prison standards also require inspectors to consider the following specific areas of prison life: reception and admission, first days in custody, good order, duty of care, environment, health, and escorts and transfers.

Chief Inspector of Corrections Janis Adair said in the report's foreword the Office of the Inspectorate would be providing ongoing monitoring through the work of Regional Inspectors.

"In addition to their general responsibilities, the Regional Inspectors would report to me on matters specifically identified in this report."

Read the full report below:

Prison facts

Whanganui Prison, located near Kaitoke, east of Whanganui, was established in 1978. It is one of 17 public prisons which, together with one prison run as a public private partnership, operate under the direction of the National Commissioner Corrections Services. The prisons operate in four regions – Northern, Central, Lower North, and Southern – each led by a Regional Commissioner. Whanganui Prison is one of five prisons in the Lower North Region.

Whanganui Prison and New Plymouth Remand Centre, which is managed by the prison, can accommodate up to 581 prisoners with security classifications from minimum to high, including remand prisoners (557 male prisoners at the prison and 24 male and female prisoners at the remand centre).

The inspection took place over a 12-week period beginning August 1, 2018. On July 31, 2018, the prison housed 525 prisoners (155 on remand and 370 sentenced). The prison population had fallen from 563 at the end of February 2108.