We deliver an essential public service in prisons and communities, and we are committed to continuing our work to keep New Zealanders safe. There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among prisoners at any of our prisons, and the wellbeing and safety of prisoners, our staff and the public remain our top priority.
The government has announced that New Zealand will move to COVID-19 Alert Level 2 at 11.59pm on Wednesday 13 May. At Alert Level 2, we will be “playing it safe” and working towards operating to the fullest extent possible while ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and the people we manage continues to come first.
We have undertaken careful planning, alongside our partners in the Justice sector and on the advice of Ministry of Health, to determine what operations can be safely resumed as New Zealand transitions to Alert Level 2.
There are 18 prisons across New Zealand and operations vary from site to site depending on the security classification of prisoners, the number of prisoners accommodated at each prison and facilities available.
All prison sites are preparing individual plans for the reintroduction of activities at Alert Level 2, with consideration given to the staffing required, the additional safety measures that need to be in place to mitigate the ongoing risk of COVID-19, and how the activity can be carried out in line with the Alert Level 2 guidelines. This means that not all activities will recommence immediately, or at the same time.
At Alert level 2 face to face visits with prisoners will resume for friends and family. In-person legal visits and New Zealand Parole Board hearings will be facilitated when requested, however we encourage the continued use of phone or AVL options where possible. Additional safety measures will be in place for all visitors to all sites, including increased hand hygiene measures, the use of thermal imaging cameras on entry, physical distancing and PPE (masks) to be worn by all people who will have face to face contact with prisoners. We will also be reducing the total number of visitors able to attend each visit session to enable physical distancing, and individual prisons will be taking steps to ensure there is a fair and equitable process for allocating and managing all visits.
Guided and temporary release of prisoners (for example, reintegration activities outside prison), temporary removal, release to work activities, face-to-face rehabilitation programmes and non-essential prison industries will resume where we can ensure the health and safety of everyone involved and that physical distancing can be maintained.
We will continue to have a number of controls in place to minimise all risks relating to the transmission of COVID-19 in our prisons in order to keep everyone safe, including health screening for every person who enters a prison. PPE will continue to be used by all staff working with prisoners, and all visitors to our sites. We will also continue to maintain the separation of people coming into custody for their first 14 days from those who have been in prison for longer periods.
Although Alert Level 2 bubble restrictions are no longer in place, the requirement for all of us to practice physical distancing remains. Where it is safe to do so and operationally possible, we will resume education, employment, rehabilitation and constructive activities, with physical distancing maintained, so prisoners can spend additional time out of their cells and more time engaging with staff and other prisoners.
Our 100+ Community Corrections sites nationwide will reopen in in phases, but some people serving community-based sentences and orders will continue to report to probation staff by phone. Where physical contact at our sites is required, there will be additional measures in place to ensure controlled entry and that physical distancing can be maintained.
Staff will continue to assist people to source accommodation, undertake treatment and provide other practical support as we can. Home visits will continue where required, and where they can be carried out safely with the use of health screening, physical distancing and PPE. At Alert level 2 a limited number of staff will work from sites on a rostered system to meet operational requirements.
Rehabilitation programmes and psychological interventions, including those delivered by contracted service providers, that cannot be delivered by phone or AVL will resume as Community Corrections sites reopen and activities can commence safely, with precautions in place.
Community work activities in the community may resume where it is safe to do so. Probation officers will contact people serving community work sentences to explain what this means for them.
Staff will continue to provide AVL access to New Zealand Parole Board members and lawyers. Court reports and advice and support to the judiciary continues.
As per our current process, all electronic monitoring of offenders in the community will continue as usual, including the installation or removal of monitoring equipment.
Most staff working in regional offices and National Office will continue to work remotely where possible, but we are expecting some staff to return to their workplaces where physical distancing can be maintained.
Increased hygiene practices (including handwashing) for all sites will remain in place, as will enhanced general cleaning of shared spaces and frequently used equipment. Additional recording of all visitors to all sites for the purpose of contact tracing will be taken.
We have a large workforce of over 10,000 people who come to work every day to keep New Zealanders safe. I would like to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of our essential workforce who have done an exceptional job in very challenging circumstances. While the challenge presented by COVID-19 is not one that we have faced on this scale before, I know that our people are committed to the safety of all of our communities, and I am grateful for their service.