PSA supports Chief Ombudsman investigation, points to understaffing concerns

Public Service Association members will actively cooperate with the Chief Ombudsman’s investigation into the Department of Corrections.

The union says its members closely follow Corrections policy regarding safe and secure containment of prisoners, and if the investigation identifies areas where policies must change the union will support this.

“Despite reductions in prisoner numbers in recent years, New Zealand still has a high rate of incarceration relative to our population and compared to other developed countries. Some prisons are overcrowded, and it becomes more difficult to safely manage this when some prisons are recurrently understaffed,” says PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk.

“The corrections system cannot be understood in isolation. New Zealand’s mental health and addiction services are also stretched dangerously thin. We need sufficient resources and a comprehensive strategy to minimise pressure throughout the whole system.”

Safe staffing levels have been agreed to in custodial settings and ratios set between prisoners and staff, but the Corrections system does not always succeed in maintaining these.

Periodic staff shortages are a key factor behind the use of 23-hour lockdowns in some facilities and contribute to difficulties in arranging rehabilitation and education programmes for offenders.

The PSA welcomes the decrease in prisoner numbers but notes this reduction has led to increased stress and higher workloads in probation and electronic monitoring.

“We view this investigation as an opportunity to improve the corrections system both for staff and prisoners. The PSA is working with the Department to support its Hōkai Rangi strategy, and we are jointly developing an action plan to prevent assaults on prison staff,” says Ms Polaczuk.

“Corrections personnel do extremely important work and are deeply committed to their roles. If the system can be improved, our members will welcome that. Prisons should be as safe as possible for everyone within their walls.”