'Not acceptable' prisoners kept in cells without exercise under lockdown - Ombudsman

The COVID-19 lockdown has let down prisoners, violating their rights.
The COVID-19 lockdown has let down prisoners, violating their rights. Photo credit: File

Prisons' response to COVID-19 and the lockdown was better than expected, but came at the expense of prisoners' rights, an independent report has found.

Chief Ombusdman Peter Boshier released the new report, which was based on inspections of units at nine prisons in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch during alert level three.

He found prisons responded in a well-resourced, balanced and efficient manner but this came at a cost to the prisoners.

Boshier said inmates at four prisons did not receive access to at least one hour of fresh air every day which contravened the Corrections Act. 

He said the Department of Corrections had accepted all his recommendations for change.

Boshier told RNZ's Checkpoint one of the main reasons for the lack of outdoor time was short staffing in prisons. 

"I think the consequence of that was two things: one, at least they kept COVID-19 out. But, two, it came at a cost."

He said it was simply a management issue and problems could have been avoided with more staffing on board.

"With this report, to be fair, it was better than we expected. I was really worried about what we would find. Visits had been suspended, initially we had difficulty getting our way into prisons, I had a genuine concern.

"In fact, we found they had managed it better than we thought they were going to."

Boshier said there were also fewer prisoner complaints than anticipated, partly because the prisoners were aware of the threat COVID-19 had to the country and the level four rules being applied at large.

"They seemed to accept it. They seemed to think the prison staff were making a good effort."