Court refuses pregnant prisoners' appeal not to be moved

By Will Trafford

Justice Christine Grice of Wellington High Court last night declined to halt transfers of wāhine prisoners, some of whom are pregnant, from Arohata Women's Prison. Photo / Stuff

Female inmates serving time at Wellington’s Arohata prison can be relocated, due to Covid-19 related staffing shortages within Corrections, a judge has found.

Amanda Hill, a lawyer, filed a court motion on behalf of eight of 100 prisoners scheduled for transfer, saying it would disrupt their rehabilitation in removing them from corrective programmes they’re engaged in.

Most of the women are Māori and would be moved away from whānau, Hill says, several are pregnant and others would lose their place in the waitlist for medical treatment.

"We are devastated for the women who will be sent far away from their kids and whānau tomorrow, with no chance to even hug them goodbye.” Hill said.

“We are also devastated at the loss of the only specialist drug treatment unit in the country for women, setting back the rehabilitation of dozens of women in prison."

In the High Court at Wellington last night Justice Christine Grice declined to halt the transfers, saying Corrections produced ‘real time’ evidence it was facing a staffing crisis.

Corrections lawyer Sean Kinsler said the department was down about 1000 people and, despite a recruitment drive, numbers were unlikely to be rebalanced till early next year.

Corrections want to move sentenced inmates from Arohata Prison to deal with a staffing crisis. Photo / Supplied

Corrections want to move sentenced inmates from Arohata Prison to deal with a staffing crisis. Photo / Supplied

Kindler said the result of the shortage meant family visits alongside other services weren’t possible at Arohata, and many of the 100 or so prisoners being moved would actually be relocated closer to whānau.

Rehabilitative programmes would also be offered to the women at other prisons, and some wanted to move, Kindler said.

The first transfer, of 11 women, will occur Wednesday with further transfers on Thursday, and the remainder over the coming weeks; the majority Hill says will be moved to Christchurch Women’s.

“This is far outside the catchment area for Arohata Prison, which is the lower/central North Island, stretching up the East Coast.”

Corrections says staffing shortages at Mt Eden are the main reason for the rebalancing of staff.

Arohata staff will be moved to Rimutaka, so Mt Eden prisoners can be moved to the Upper Hutt facility.

Hill says she and senior counsel, Victoria Casey KC, would be considering next steps over the coming days.

"On Suffrage Day, of all days, we are deeply disappointed that Corrections will continue with this action which disadvantages the most vulnerable people in our community - Māori women and their tamariki,” Hill said.

“We urge Corrections to pause, rethink and reconsider the interests of these women who will be so severely impacted by this proposal”.

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