Corrections Minister orders urgent overhaul, review of women’s prisons

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Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has directed the Department of Corrections to conduct an urgent overhaul and review of women’s prisons.

Kelvin Davis.

Kelvin Davis. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The minister has written to written to Corrections chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot demanding an urgent overhaul of the maximum security classification for women and development of management plans for women, and a review of all women’s prisons.

Corrections confirmed its officials had met with three women to acknowledge and apologise for the way they were managed at Auckland Women’s Prison, following preliminary findings of an investigation by the independent Corrections Inspectorate.

Davis, who also apologised to the women, said he wanted and expected better from Corrections.

The department has come under scrutiny after stinging criticism from a judge for not fronting up to properly answer accusations of “cruel and inhumane” treatment of inmates at Auckland Women’s Prison.

The claims were aired during an arson trial for one of the women, Mihi Bassett, who was being sentenced this morning after a guilty plea.

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Judge McNaughton found Corrections broke its own regulations multiple times but despite plenty of opportunity had not fronted anyone who could respond in any detail.

Bassett, diagnosed with PTSD after being raped by a gang member at 17, attempted suicide in the prison and the judge said her deteriorating mental health “would have been obvious to any interested observer”.

Documents released to RNZ show that minutes after a suicide attempt, prison guards threatened to pepper spray her and then went on to put her in a headlock.

After Bassett was moved to the prisons’ Intensive Support Unit, her partner, Cripps, was put in the cell Bassett had attempted suicide in – even though there were other cells available – an action the judge described as cruel.

At Bassett’s sentencing today the judge ruled she had suffered enough and would not receive extra time on her sentence for arson at the prison in 2019.

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As a result of the case, Davis sought advice from the Chief Inspector who has found no evidence of deliberate cruelty from staff but overall staff lacked proper oversight and guidance.

More to come…

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