barbed wire fence on a prison wall

A decision regarding the future of the youth unit at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison is still pending following the suspension of its operation after an event regarding youth offenders gaining access to the roof top in August 2022.

The Department of Corrections (DoC) is continuing to operate a youth unit at Christchurch Men’s Prison, and a temporary youth unit at Manawatū Prison has opened this month.

National Commissioner Leigh Marsh in an Official Information Act (OIA) response stated DoC also had separate youth placement beds at several sites around the country, including Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison, where young people were being managed separately from the adult prison population.

“All recommendations (of the event review) have been accepted and are being implemented,” Marsh said.

“This includes the development of policies and strategies to support the effective management of 18-25-year-olds, an increase in specialised youth-related support for staff, and the implementation of a structured approach to upskilling and training staff who manage youth in prison.”

BayBuzz received a copy of the OIA response originally sent to Stuff.

The response, a 36-page event review, commissioned by regional commissioner of lower North Island Liz Hawthorn, concerns the incident on August 1, 2022, when six youth prisoners gained access to the exterior roof space of the youth accommodation facility at Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison.

The youth remained on the roof for a period of approximately 24hrs before voluntarily returning to ground level. They had access to supplies such as food and warm clothing. They caused structural and cosmetic damage to the exterior and interior of the facility. There were no injuries incurred by anyone in attendance or by the youth involved.

There was conflicting evidence around what led the youths to take the action they did, and the review notes the youths involved were never interviewed after the event.

It appears that at about 1pm on August 1, a group of youth prisoners requested recreational time in an outdoor area. Staff told them to first clean graffiti off walls in the unit’s dining area.

The graffiti was not cleaned, and the youths became verbally abusive, demanding they be allowed into the outdoor recreation area. When staff refused to allow them to access, the youths became angry and matters escalated to the point that staff withdrew, due to concerns about their safety. 

The prison went into ‘code red’ lockdown.

The youth unit has not been operational since the event.

The review noted it was not the first incident of this nature in the youth unit with similar rooftop incidents in 2011 and 2017.

It also found an absence of specific training aimed at building staff capacity in understanding and responding appropriately to youth in prison.

It was also noted the lack of dedicated training for staff working in the youth unit left them feeling they didn’t have the necessary skills to deal with what they perceived as increasingly complex behaviours presented by youth.

The review also pointed out “gaps” in understanding what vulnerability was in terms of youth being placed at the facility. 

It also found the on-site youth forensics clinical team were not approached at any point during the emergency response to the incident or the time leading up to the incident.

The reviewer Ngaire Knowles pointed out that it was “very possible the team may have been able to provide some quality advise and guidance with regards to the de-escalation of the pre-incident period and engagement with the youth during the incident.”

Most of the detail on recommendations and options regarding the current facility in the OIA response was redacted. Not redacted was the exploration of two possible options for the facility: 

Rebuild the existing facility with slight security enhancements, or

Undertake a number of security enhancements to repurpose the existing facility from a youth unit to a management facility. 

Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air


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