Eleven prisoners were transferred from an Auckland prison to Arohata in Wellington by charter flight on Wednesday.
Corrections Deputy National Commissioner Leigh Marsh said seven of the prisoners were moved from Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility to allow them to take part in a drug treatment programme at Arohata.
The prison accommodates New Zealand’s only specialist drug treatment unit for women.
Four others from the Auckland prison were also transferred, but not to take part in the drug treatment programme.
Marsh said despite parts of the country being at alert level 3, Corrections still had to manage sites safely and security.
“Which means essential prisoner transfers continue to operate where required. Essential reasons for transfers can include the need to safely manage a prisoner's increased security classification or to enable for a person to be released from prison to a specific area.”
Marsh said the task was complex and requires responding to a “dynamic range of issues, including gang tension, on a daily basis”.
The health of all prisoners was screened before their transfer.
Marsh said all new prisoners into custody are transported in a secure vehicle and both prisoners and staff are required to wear PPE.
“Our prisoner escort vehicles have enhanced cleaning procedures in place to prevent any potential for the virus to transmission between each movement. If any prisoner developed symptoms they would also be isolated, and we would follow the advice of the Ministry of Health in terms of contact tracing.
“We are taking every precaution to minimise movements where we can, and to ensure it is safe to carry out any essential movement required.”
If a prisoner has been in custody for 14 days and is transferred directly to another site, they are able to go straight into the general prison population as usual, Marsh said.
“However if they have been anywhere inbetween, where members of the wider community may be present, such as a court hearing or a hospital visit, they will be isolated for 14 days on arrival.”
New prisoners are managed separately from those that have been in custody for longer, to avoid any potential Covid-19 spread. They are tested on arrival, and again on days 5 and 12.
There have been six cases of Covid-19 in prisons since March 2020, including three who arrived at Mt Eden prisonsource this month. There has been no transmission by those prisoners to other inmates or staff.
“Newly received prisoners and prisoners residing in quarantine units are not eligible for transfer,” Marsh said.
When a prisoner is transported out of prison, a risk assessment is carried out including specifying the number of escorting staff who may be needed, the transport method, the restraint type used and whether the prisoner will be monitored by GPS.
“Air travel enables us to ensure the time a prisoner spends outside of a prison is limited, thereby minimising risk to the safety of the public. It also means prisoners are not spending long periods of time in a cell inside a prisoner transport vehicle,” Marsh said.
“Corrections officers accompany prisoners on all air transfers, and additional airport security staff and prison staff are stationed at the receiving airport. Prisoners of all security classification may be transported by air, depending on the individual risk assessment carried out.”
Each year tens of thousands of prisoners were moved between prisons, courts, specialist medical facilities and rehabilitation providers, Marsh said, and a variety of transport methods were used, including road transport, commercial flights and charter flights.