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.
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.
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.
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?