Regional | Corrections

Sentenced inmates transfer away from whānau ‘against the law’ - High Court

Corrections has been criticised by the High Court over its transfer of sentenced inmates from Wellington’s Arohata Women’s Prison last year.

It came as a staffing shortfall within Corrections transferred inmates to Christchurch and Auckland away from their whānau.

Due to whānau being unable to travel the distance, the High Court said the department’s actions were against the law and discriminatory.

Lawyer Amanda Hill, who represented eight of the women at the judicial review, says there was a range of whānau situations for individual inmates, with the majority of the inmates being Māori.

“The first thing that happened was a failure to consider those individual circumstances when the decision was made to close Arohata. The Corrections Act required consideration, so it was a breach of the act but in judicial review terms it was a failure to take a mandatory consideration.”

Hill says the reasons for not carrying out proper procedure were “scarce”, and that the High Court judge did not accept the national commissioner’s evidence presented.

‘Discrimination largely against wāhine Māori’

“[It] has to be a wake-up call for Corrections about the way decisions are made when its senior management is not being believed by the High Court.”

She said her clients were affected by the disestablishment of the only drug treatment unit for a women’s prison in the country.

“It set women back. They can’t get out of prison without it.”

The High Court has asked Corrections to work with inmates on rectification or remedy. Hill says she believes more corrections staff being put to work in men’s prisons “needs to be flipped on its head” to rectify the Arohata Prison dilemma.

“The ball is very much with Corrections, with the minister, management. I guess my question to them is, ‘Are you willing to let a position of discrimination that’s largely against wāhine Māori, are you going to let that continue and, if not, what is your plan?’

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