The Law and Order Select Committee has heard evidence from the Chief Ombudsman, Judge Peter Boshier about the treatment of prisoners considered at risk of self-harm.
His office released a report in March into the physical restraining of at-risk prisoners. The report concluded that prison methods were in contravention of both New Zealand law and the UN Convention against Torture.
Judge Boshier said he wasn’t picking on prisons.
"What I think we are seeing is a large part of the prison population who are just contained… and probably emerge possibly worse, in a mental health frame of mind than when they went in.”
The report also suggested that some prisoners threatened to self-harm in order to be put in an at-risk unit.
Jacki Jones, Chief Inspector for the Convention against Torture noted that prisoners said they did this to escape from bullying and violence in the general prison population.
“We don’t feel that corrections has really grasped the nettle when it comes to gangs and violence and they have no strategies to cover those areas. So I think there’s a gaping hole about what are they going to … to address some of these gang issues that are actually taking over some of the facilities around the country.”
Judge Boshier said he favoured giving Corrections more ability to treat mentally ill prisoners, but prisons should not become about containment of the mentally unwell - as that would ultimately decrease public safety.
Committee chair Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi wanted to check that the Ombudsman’s office was aware of the Corrections Department’s stated intentions to improve in this area. They assured him they were but as yet they saw no improvements, and would keep a watch.
You can read the Report from the Office of the Ombudsman, A Question of Restraint, Care and management for prisoners considered to be at risk of suicide and self harm: observations and findings from OPCAT.