Yesterday, the Office of the Ombudsman released two new reports following inspections at Christchurch Women’s Prison and Wellington’s Arohata Prison. Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand and justice advocacy group JustSpeak are dismayed by the findings of these reports and are calling on the Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis to lead a process of transformational change.

“Aotearoa New Zealand needs a justice system that actually works to reduce crime, that upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and that enables everyone to live well in their community. But our current justice system is risking serious harm by failing to live up to human rights standards. These new reports underscore the severity of this harm,” said Lisa Woods, Campaigns Director at Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Over and over again, our prisons are failing to treat the people in their care with dignity. As humans, this is something we all need. Of course, protecting well being in prison also better equips people to reintegrate with their communities, which in turn helps society to flourish in the ways we all want to see,” said Aphiphany Forward-Taua, Executive Director of JustSpeak.

“Clearly our country’s justice system must be fundamentally transformed, not just tweaked at the edges,” said Forward-Taua.

Stop the use of spit hoods

JustSpeak and Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand made a joint submission to the UN Committee against Torture ahead of Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2023 review, which took place last week. Ending the use of spit hoods on young people was among the many issues raised in this submission, and was also raised as an issue by the Committee while questioning the NZ delegation.

Together with the Chief Ombudsman, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand and JustSpeak are calling on the Government to immediately stop the use of spit hoods on young people.

“The Ombudsman and the Committee against Torture have both highlighted many of the shocking ways in which the New Zealand Government is failing to protect the wellbeing of people in prisons and youth justice facilities. This only serves to feed the cycle of crime that ultimately harms all of society,” said Forward-Taua.

“Spit hoods pose a serious risk and the Government must find alternative solutions to keep staff safe,” said Woods.

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Overhaul the monitoring and reporting systems

Among the various issues raised in the latest reports from the Ombudsman are the ongoing failings of the prison system to effectively monitor and report on human rights issues, such as the use of force against people in prison. The reports found a range of issues with the way in which the use of force was recorded, including missing documentation, substandard reporting and a lack of detail on how unjustified force was addressed.

“Monitoring the use of force against people in prison is essential for ensuring that our Government is acting in line with human rights standards and minimising the risk of harm. Our role as human rights watchdog is crucial for transparency and accountability, but it’s particularly difficult when the issues we are trying to watch are being so poorly recorded by the Government,” said Woods.

“The Department of Corrections has failed to treat people with basic dignity by adequately recording their treatment in prison. The Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis must take responsibility for this repeated failure of accountability,” said Forward-Taua.

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