Auckland women's prison rejects inmate's claims of broken facilities, ignored complaints

By Charlotte Cook for RNZ

Inmates from New Zealand's biggest women's prison say they spent a week handwashing their clothes and towels in a shared bath before hanging the dripping laundry in their cells.

A current prisoner that RNZ spoke to said both the washing machine and dryer were broken and despite several complaints, nothing was done.

However, the Department of Corrections said that was not the case. It said alternative laundry arrangements were made and problems were resolved quickly.

Auckland Region Women's Correctional Facility has a washing machine and a dryer placed in each unit for inmates to do their laundry.

But a woman RNZ spoke to inside the prison said the washing machine in her unit was already broken when 20 women were moved there last week. She said the dryer soon packed it in too.

Jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor said he had been fielding complaints since Tuesday last week.

"They put 20 women, closely confined, all of them double-bunked, only out of their cell for a couple hours a day, which they can do their washing in a wing with no facilities to wash the clothes including their undergarments."

The inmates were forced to use a communal bath to wash towels and clothes before stringing the dripping items along their cell window ledges.

Taylor said the women could also choose to use their allotted four-minute daily shower to wash both themselves and belongings.

"This includes not only their clothes but towels and items of that nature.

"The only way they can possibly wash anything is they've got a bath in the unit and they've been trying to wash in and then they've got no way of drying the clothes.

"I understand the dryer was initially working, but when they started putting clothes that they couldn't wring out properly into the dryer, that's when it gave up the ghost as well.

"So they've got no towels, they've got nothing."

The women in the unit have jobs around the prison and after spending all day working come back and can not get their things clean, Taylor said.

The woman in the unit said there had been fights and tensions were high.

Taylor said he raised the problem with the prison management last week, but had no response until RNZ made enquiries.

"What really appals me, I mean these situations can arise we all know things go wrong from time to time, but when it's brought to the prison directors personal attention after they've already tried going through the normal process to get it fixed and nothing's done about it and you don't get any answers that makes it even worse in my book," he said.

Prison rejects claims

Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility prison director Stephen Parr said the claims were not correct and guards made sure laundry facilities were available.

"Last week a number of women were moved into this unit from another part of the prison, at which time they brought with them significant quantities of laundry.

"On Thursday they overloaded the machines in the unit and both the washing machine and dryer broke down.

"Staff have been taking towels and clothing items to other units in the prison to wash for the women while their machines were being repaired.

"Staff also conducted extra unlock times for the women so that they could complete any laundry duties they needed to."

The Department of Corrections said as of Monday morning, the machines were fully operational.

But the woman from the unit said staff didn't take clothing to be washed elsewhere and while the machine was now working it was very temperamental.

She said the washing cycles were now taking an hour and a half which was problematic with their limited unlocked time.

Criminal justice advocate Awatea Mita spent time in prison herself.

She said washing - even when you had facilities - was stressful.

"Washing can be bad enough with only one machine and you've got to line up your washing to use that machine.

"If someone tries to jump the queue or takes your washing out of the dryer while it's still damp and puts their washing in, all those things can cause people to become really frustrated."

Women often did not have enough underwear or bras to get them through the week even when they could do washing, Mita said.

"Some of the realities of being in the prison environment is that there are women there who are going without, who actually may only have one bra and may not have enough undergarments.

"When you're doing your washing in your unit, you have to keep an eye on the washing machine and the dryer because of course the woman who don't have as much don't have enough bras, don't have enough underwear, they're keeping an eye on it."

Mita said she felt for the women who had to struggle through in that environment with no access to washing facilities.

Problems like that could be damaging for their rehabilitation and could feel like they were being set up to fail, she said.