Rimutaka prisoners still locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day

Some inmates at Rimutaka Prison were still being locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, despite assurances from Corrections that it had resolved its staffing issues.

Stephanie's partner who has been on remand at Rimutaka since early January was lucky to get an hour a day out of his cell. She said he was getting very frustrated. 

"It's crazy. You can't lock these guys up like animals and expect reform to happen. These are people's lives we're dealing with and you want them to respect you and you're not even respecting them," Stephanie said. 

Her partner had PTSD and was suffering the effects of childhood trauma.

"He's got really bad night terrors and so being confined to a cell for 28 hours, he's stuck inside his own head," Stephanie said.  

Limited family visits to the prison resumed on March 11 after being stopped for several years due to COVID-19 and staffing shortages. But those visits were only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and for approved visitors.  

Two lawyers told Newshub that it was nearly impossible to talk on the phone with their clients at Rimutaka Prison because it was never clear when they might be let out of their cells, and the lawyers might be tied up in court. 

Video calls were also difficult to arrange. Stephanie said they waited three months for a video call and when it was booked and she logged on, the prison staff didn't turn up. 

Wellington alcohol and drug counsellor Roger Brooking has been interviewing and working with prisoners for more than 20 years. The criminologist said it had been three years since he had been able to do any in-person interviews and he was frustrated with the ongoing situation at Rimutaka. 

"I have to ask them some quite personal questions, including questions about sexual abuse when they were children. Well, imagine trying to do that when you're not actually in the room," he said. 

Brooking said many prisoners had PTSD or brain injuries.  

"Imagine the impact of isolation on somebody with those kinds of issues going on. If they weren't crazy before they got in there, they sure as hell gonna be pretty crazy by the time they get out," he said. 

In a statement, Corrections said staffing levels were steadily increasing and all prisoners at Rimutaka were receiving their minimum entitlements of at least one hour per day out of their cell and in most cases prisoners received in excess of that.

The statement said on occasion prisoners may be unlocked in the morning on one day and in the afternoon the following day. 

As of April 29 there were 426 front-line custodial vacancies out of a total established workforce of 4435. Newshub understood that more than 50 of these were at Rimutaka.