Where’s The Independence?

The lack of independence displayed by the Inspectors of Corrections has been a source of frustration to many almost since they came to exist.  Their blatant and arrogant failure to uphold complaints is well known and demonstrated by the fact that the Inspectorate only upholds 2% of complaints.  This figure is so low that it demonstrates serious flaws with the way the Inspectorate approaches its investigations and must raise alarm bells.

To describe their methodology as having any investigative basis is wrong, for if someone seeking to complain even manages to get as far as talking to an inspector, that in itself an uphill battle they can expect to face an up hill battle even getting someone to listen with an impartial ear.  Fairness and impartiality are not part of the qualifications needed for the job.  The mindset of the average inspector is to favour their Corrections masters at the cost of any degree of honesty or fairness.  There is no evidence based manner to the way investigations are carried out and the determination is to find a way, any way, to cover up for the colleagues that these same inspectors have often previously worked, played rugby with and got drunk alongside.

Grenville Bell Don't let the smile fool you!

Grenville Bell
Don’t let the smile fool you!

One of the Department of Corrections greatest legacies was long time senior prison inspector Grenville Bell whose skills at burying complaints are legendary.  He ruled the other inspectors with an iron will and had an amazing ability to “dispose” of any complaint in a manner that was favourable to his Corrections masters.

As a prison officer Bell was a well established member of the “stash and bash” brigade who hated all inmates with a passion that knew no bounds.

As an inspector he hated those whose complaints it was his responsibility to investigate and took the attitude that you never believe anything an inmate tells you.  This is a mindset that resonates within Corrections to this day.  His hate and disdain was openly displayed, oft with utter hostility toward anyone who dared to complain to him.  His arrogance and the blatant way he displayed this attitude is perhaps a prerequisite for the job of inspector and quietly encouraged by Corrections management.

It was not uncommon for an inspector new to the job to write a report and then have that document completely trashed by Bell and rewritten to show Corrections in a better light.  They soon learned to tow the line or get out.

In her investigation in to the infamous Paparua Prison “Goon Squad” Alicia Duffy QC made harsh criticisms of the Department of Corrections’ senior inspector Grenville Bell.  Despite such a pitiful report card Bell continued in to role undaunted and with the same culture until his retirement.  In reality they should have got rid of him long before that but the Department of Corrections has a long history of ignoring criticism and carrying on with its own agenda regardless.

There is nothing that is independent about the current Inspectors of Corrections.  They have offices within the Department of Corrections, report to the Department of Corrections Chief Executive, have email addresses on the corrections.govt.nz domain and can be contacted by phoning Corrections head office.

Andy Fitzharris 40 year apprenticeship

Andy Fitzharris
40 year apprenticeship

Bell has disappeared in to retirement but his legacy of dishonesty remains.

The current Chief Inspector is Andy Fitzharris who was apprenticed to and learned his craft at Bell’s feet.

What has changed now is that Fitzharris has managed to create a regime where he and his colleague s are as inaccessible as they can possibly make themselves and it is as difficult as they can make it to complain.  Listen here to the message on the inspectors 0800 line and if you are still awake at the end of it your stamina is to be admired:



A high percentage of inmates are illiterate and most inarticulate.  To be confronted with a voice mail message like that would be utterly daunting and discourage many.  Perhaps this is precisely what it is intended to achieve.

In Queensland , where the  prison complaint system  is  more transparent and prisons are  more open to outsiders able to help prisoners articulate their complaints,  a high percentage of complaints are lodged (including online) by non-prisoners.  There is consultation with prisoners on prison policy.  Total complaint numbers are a fraction of those in NZ.  In this country multiple complaints are received about like issues, but nothing is done to resolve them, so the complaint numbers skyrocket and thus the inspectors justify their jobs.

One of the more offensive aspects of the inspectors methodology is that no matter how damming or irresponsible the actions of Corrections staff, their report would often be tempered with a rider commending staff for some other aspect of their involvement.

A recent example shows a lack of integrity and independence.  The prison inspectors were asked to investigate the failure of prison management to facilitate a lawyer visit.  Very quickly the inspector investigating, Trevor Riddle, came back with a conclusion that blamed everyone but prison management for the failure.  As an ex prison manager himself it seems Riddle is sympathetic to the failures of his colleagues.

Upon then being presented with evidence that prison management had lied to him, Riddle’s response is to duck for cover and refuse to address the problem.  In similar fashion to the IPCA mentality Corrections inspectors will turn a blind eye to the lies of management if it will permit them to dismiss a complaint.

The Corrections Inspectorate is incapable of even a semblance of independence and even when it is demonstrated that their conclusions are flawed, they stubbornly and with incredible arrogance dig in and refuse to budge.

Could this have been prevented?

Could this have been prevented?

It is very likely that had they done their jobs properly and actually listened to the concerns that were repeatedly being expressed to them, last year’s riots at Spring Hill might never have happened.

Andy Fitzharris and Corrections CEO Ray Smith failed to respond to requests for comment.

So where’s the independence?

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13 Responses to Where’s The Independence?

  1. GTW says:

    Good grief! Is Andy Fitzharris still around??? He was pretty useless as a screw way back when I worked with him but was good at sucking up so I can see how he ended up as an inspector – they can rely on him to shaft the inmates and tow the management line.

  2. AJ says:

    Hit the nail right in the head there. I don’t think anyone has anything good to say about the prison inspectors and Gren Bell was just an absolute piece of garbage who would never have hacked it in another job. Fitzharris is not too intelligent and would never survive a job in the real world, so will likely spend his entire career covering up and lying for his mates. There is a serious need to get rid of all this dead wood and start again with a truly independent inspectorate.

  3. “As a prison officer Bell was a well established member of the “stash and bash” brigade who hated all inmates with a passion that knew no bounds.”

    Do bashed inmates never get out of prison? How come the above mentioned stash and bash brigade members never get hunted down and dealt to by their prisoner victims?

    I read once that pommy prison guards were very careful how they treated IRA prisoners because they knew that the IRA on the outside would sort them or their families out if they didn’t.

  4. beansprout says:

    I think you will find history to have shown that more than one screw has reaped the consequences of their bullying tactics, one night when they least expect it. But bullies are usually selective about their targets and pick on those who are not going to later turn around and seek utu.
    There is a screw at Rimutaka named Skip Wooledge who has such an attitude problem that over the years he has taken several serious beatings whilst at work, ends up getting obscene amounts of money in compensation, spends months on paid sick leave and then comes back and does it all over again. Instead of sorting him and his kind out and getting rid of them they promote them up the ranks thereby validating such attitudes.
    Whilst the tactics of the IRA are understandable and a product of self preservation, to respond to violence with violence makes us just as bad as the likes of Bell and Woledge and many others like him.

  5. therebutforfortune says:

    Getting rid of Fitzharris and his cronies is long overdue. In essence the way they work makes them more dishonest than those they seek to keep locked up.

  6. Bruce Mitchell says:

    I remember Bell and in my experience he was a real redneck who hated inmates and made it his personal mission to make life as miserable for them as he possibly could. In any other job outside of Government they would have got rid of him and his nasty, viscous mates long ago. Astonishing that he made it all the way to retirement even in the face of such condemning reports as to his suitability to even do the job.
    What is he doing in retirement? Working for Sensible Sentencing perhaps and campaigning for the return of the death penalty? That would suit him down to the ground.

  7. Bruce Mitchell says:

    Such a demise would be far too good for the likes of Bell, who has made a career out of creating misery for as many people as he can. Check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/grenville.bell?fref=ts Looks like he is far to happy in life and far from meeting the end he so richly deserves.

  8. Yep, he certainly looks like he’s living in fear or retribution.

    “What goes around Does NOT come around….unless you make it so.

    Karma is a cop-out for those too lazy, stupid and cowardly to get their own back. ”

    • Yep, he certainly looks like he’s living in fear of retribution.

      “What goes around Does NOT come around….unless you make it so.

      Karma is a cop-out for those too lazy, stupid and cowardly to get their own back. ”

  9. advkit says:

    It is a wonder there are not more riots simply out of frustation at the utterly biased and corrupt decisions Bell and Fitzharris are the authors of. Bell was a nasty piece of work and he seems to have passed those qualities on to Fitzharris.

  10. Metal Mickey says:

    Some points well made in this article but do you seriously think it will have any impact upon Corrections? For decades they have been doing what they like, when they like, howsoever they like and to hell with what the law may require of them. There is a legacy of CEOs who will turn a blind eye to anything and everything. Now it seems the current CEO is completely out of his depth in turn making for even more out of control staff.
    As it is election year perhaps we should all be asking our respective MPs what they intend to do in order to bring about a truly independent corrections inspectorate.

  11. SPCO says:

    There is no independence so why ask where it is when you already know the answer? As things stand right now the only hope that this will change any is if Green MP David Clendon’s Bill is drawn from the ballot. Even then you can expect a huge battle from all those who have grown comfortable with the security of knowing that whatever they do wrong it will be covered up for them.

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