Investigation into prisoner's right to exercise at Auckland Prison
The complainant, Mr Arthur Taylor, was held in Auckland Prison’s D Block. In August 2014, he made a complaint that the Department of Corrections (the Department) was denying D Block prisoners the opportunity to exercise in the open air.
Mr Taylor’s complaint highlights a recurring issue of prisoners at Auckland Prison’s East Divisionnot receiving the opportunity to spend at least one hour daily exercising in the open air. The issue has been raised in previous Ombudsman and Inspector of Corrections reports.
Under section 70 of the Corrections Act 2004 prisoners are entitled on a daily basis to one hour of physical exercise, and in the open air if the weather permits. The Act provides that the entitlement may be withheld in certain circumstances such as when there is an emergency at the prison or the security of the prison is threatened, as specified in section 69(2).
The purpose of the section 69(2) exceptions is not to enable prison management to organise normal prison schedules in a manner that fails at the outset to allow for the minimum entitlements of prisoners. They are intended to cover exceptional circumstances, where in an emergency or for security or health or safety reasons, there is justification for denying the entitlement for a reasonable period. Thus, simply because officers have a training day or are on annual leave and are therefore unavailable, prisoners should not be denied their entitlement to exercise in the open air. Such situations are part of normal prison operations. Prison management need to manage these without prisoners missing out on any of their entitlements.
The opportunity for prisoners to exercise daily for one hour in the open air is not a goal for prison management to work towards. It is an entitlement that should be reflected in a prison’s daily regimes. The Department must be in a position to demonstrate that the minimum entitlement has been met.
My investigation found that in the period under investigation:
Auckland Prison’s D Block operated a regime on Fridays where prisoners were only unlocked in the morning for approximately 1 hour 15 minutes.
On 13 August 2014, the unlock time provided to D Block prisoners was reduced, due to a reduction in staffing at Auckland Prison that day when 18 staff members were deployed to assist Northland Region Corrections Facility (NRCF) return to normal hours of unlock. NRCF had been on a period of lockdown following an incident where a prisoner climbed onto the prison roof.
I concluded that:
the Friday regime in D Block was unreasonable as it did not allow prisoners in D Block a reasonable opportunity to have one hour exercise in the open air, in addition to cleaning their cells, having a shower and using a telephone;
the lock-up on 13 August 2014 in D Block was not unreasonable. The Department was faced with an unforeseen situation at NRCF. The need to return NRCF prisoners to normal hours of unlock after an enforced lockdown required an assessment within a short period as to how this would be done and the resources to do so safely.