Dispute over Corrections $10, 000 OIA request bill

By Mānia Clarke-Mamanu

Prison advocacy group No Pride in Prisons is disputing a OIA request fee by Corrections of nearly $10,000. Spokesperson Emilie Rākete says their request to release reports into human rights abuse in New Zealand prisons is of public interest and should be met by the department.

No Pride in Prisons is refusing to pay a $9,956.00 bill from the Corrections Department.

"Our argument is Corrections has been failing to do its chores for nearly a decade and is now charging the public $10, 000 for it to do that work which it should have been doing all along.  It was always in the public interest for these reports to have been made public," said Rākete.

In December last year the prison advocacy group requested an OIA into reports detailing whether prisoners have been tortured between 2007-2016, but to no avail.

"We believe they'll show that Corrections has known about the systematic human rights abuses for a decade and has failed to act for that entire period of time."

The Department of Corrections have explained in a statement that they receive 2500 OIA requests annually and meet their obligations to reply within the timeframe. They say this specific request required extra staffing hours, hence the cost.

No Pride in Prisons have submitted a range of OlA requests to Corrections in the last two years, including treatment of transgender prisoners and sexual assault in prisons. Last year Corrections released four torture reports.

Rākete says in just those four reports the public found out about systematic human rights abuse in New Zealand prisons. 

"There was violence, sexual assault and medical neglect, basically across the board in every single prison that the Ombudsmen checked."

Vincent Arbuckle of Corrections says while Corrections is committed to meeting its obligations under the OIA legislation, there are occasional requests, as is the case here, when it is not reasonable to expect the taxpayer to meet the additional cost of retrieval and assessment of information. The cost of that should therefore be picked up by the organisation making the request. 

No Pride in Prison has laid a complaint with the Ombudsmen and an sent OIA request with the NZ Human Rights Commission. They expect a response within six weeks.