Advocates are calling for the practice of "double-bunking" to be abolished as new data shows more than 150 allegations of sexual assault in New Zealand prisons in the past five years.
The numbers, obtained by the Herald through an Official Information Act request, reveal 85 claims of sexual assault from people in prison were levelled against others in prison.
Eight of which resulted in police charges.
The alleged sexual assaults aren't just between prisoners, and 61 allegations have been recorded from staff against prisoners, including 17 which resulted in police charges.
Corrections also told the Herald there were 40 recorded allegations of staff-on-prisoner assaults recorded over the same time period.
The agency said 31 were referred to police - none of which resulted in charges.
"The majority of the allegations made by people in prison against staff were due to
situations that occurred during personal (rub down and strip searches)," the agency said.
Amnesty International New Zealand executive director Meg de Ronde told the Herald there were a number of concerning aspects to the data.
"Ultimately if you can stop it at the source that would seem the best way of dealing with sexual violence, and as we know double-bunking exposes people to the very real risk of assault or potentially serious rape."
From a broader perspective, de Ronde said it was rare for sexual assaults, in general, to result in a charge, and in prison it can often be just the victim's word against the offender's.
"People are locked up with the people they're alleging assaulted them, so how incredibly difficult [is it] for them to follow through with a complaint."
She said prisons weren't doing enough to prevent sexual violence, and some of the procedures around dealing with it can be traumatising.
"They should be doing everything they can to separate prisoners so this doesn't happen.
"These are people that are being re-traumatised under the care of corrections."
In a statement, chief custodial officer Neil Beales told the Herald that Corrections had a range of policies, processes and tools in place to identify and mitigate concerns about prisoner safety.
Beales said double-bunking was a long-standing practice in New Zealand prisons and around the world.
But, due to a reduction in the prison population in recent years, he said Corrections had been able to reduce the use of double-bunking by almost 52 per cent.
"In March 2018, 4636 prisoners (43 per cent of the then prison population) were sharing cells and 2238 prisoners (28 per cent of the prison population as of October 31, 2021) are sharing now."
He said prior to placing people in a shared cell together they use a comprehensive assessment tool called the Shared Accommodation Cell Risk Assessment (SACRA) to review their compatibility.
Regarding strip searches, he said they are used as a "critical safety tool" both for when people first enter prison but also when there's cause to believe someone may be carrying an illegal or dangerous item.
In 2020, Beales said they started trialling full-body scanners as an alternative to strip-searching for suspected concealed items.
He said the feedback indicated this method was more efficient, safer, and helped maintain people's dignity.
"The use of full-body scanning was implemented at Rimutaka Prison in March 2021, with planning underway on expanding this to each site."
He said the agency, which took almost five months to provide a response to the Herald's OIA, was committed to transparency and openness.
Corrections said 97 per cent of the nearly 7500 OIA requests they received in 2020/21 were responded to within legislated timeframes.
"There are frequent visits to our prison sites and public reports published by the Ombudsman and the independent Corrections Inspectorate. Corrections also routinely publishes information on our website."
The Corrections Association of New Zealand (CANZ) was approached for comment but did not respond by the deadline.
Where to get help:
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Rape Crisis 0800 883 300
Lifeline 0800 543 354
Women's Refuge Crisis Line 0800 733 843
Youthline 0800 376 633
Mental Health Crisis Team 0800 800 717