More Auckland inmates approach lawyers after 'cruel and degrading' prison searches

More women have approached lawyers in search of compensation after prison authorities subjected them to "cruel and degrading" illegal searches.

The intrusive, unauthorised searches were carried out for a decade on female inmates at Auckland Region Women's Prison suspected of concealing contraband. The Department of Corrections in March said it had apologised to 15 women and paid them $25,000 each in compensation for the searches.

This week, Auckland lawyer Emma Priest said six women had approached her and colleague Sue Gray seeking legal advice.

Auckland University sociologist Tracey McIntosh says broader reflection on regular prison searches is needed.

The offer of $25,000 compensation was "inadequate", she said.

"We will initially seek an adequate amount of compensation from the Department of Corrections, and failing that, take instructions on filing proceedings in the High Court."

Priest said the women suffered "cruel and degrading" treatment.

"This is an unlawful and unreasonable search under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 of the most invasive kind."

University of Auckland sociologist, Professor Tracey McIntosh, had an independent oversight role when Corrections investigated claims of illegal, intrusive searches.

The prisoners were brought in to see her and a senior Corrections staffer one by one.

"Overwhelmingly they've experienced sexual violence in their lives and forms of coercive control," McIntosh told Stuff this week.

"There is a need to really reflect much more broadly on all of the searches that are done as part of the day-to-day operations of a prison."

McIntosh said the searches were shown to be ineffective at finding contraband anyway.

She previously said there appeared to have been "a complete misunderstanding" of the law at the Auckland Region Women's Prison at Wiri. 

In March, Corrections National Commissioner Rachel Leota said the unauthorised searches were "systemic" at the jail between 2006 and 2016.

Leota said two incidents also took place in 2016 at Arohata Prison in Wellington.

In a statement on Thursday, Leota again apologised "unreservedly" for the searches that were carried out.

She said the compensation offered to the women in March was given proactively and not as a full and final settlement of legal claims against the department. 

She the women were able to make a further claim for compensation if they wished, adding: "These searches were intrusive and potentially traumatising for these women, and it's critical that we try to put things right."

"In 2017 we reviewed and reinforced our Health Services and Custodial policies and directions for staff to ensure that they explicitly state that internal searches for contraband are not permitted at any time," she added.