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Inspectorate review highlights human rights concerns in prison

Tuesday 13 June 2023, 10:56AM

By Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

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The Office of the Inspectorate has today released its report on the management of people who have been separated from the prison population. Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand has serious concerns about the human rights issues highlighted in this report. The following can be attributed to Lisa Woods, Campaigns Director at Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand:

"Aotearoa New Zealand needs a criminal justice system that actually works to reduce crime, that upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and that enables everyone to live well in their community. The problem is our current justice system is risking serious harm, as outlined in this new report by the Office of the Inspectorate.

"The report raises serious concerns from a human rights perspective. The finding that many people in prison are likely to have been subjected to solitary confinement is particularly concerning - the report says the harm caused by this isolation can be irreversible if it goes on for too long. 

"According to the Mandela Rules, a set of international standards for the treatment of people in prison, nobody should be kept in solitary confinement for more than 15 days. This is an important limit, as there is a very real risk that someone’s health and wellbeing will decline if they are denied meaningful human interaction for too long. We are horrified to hear that the Government cannot quantify how many people may have experienced a violation of this standard. Instead, the Department of Corrections has failed to treat people with basic dignity by adequately recording their treatment in prison.

"The purpose of such reports is to hold the New Zealand Government accountable, including under its international obligations, such as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This Convention is designed to protect everyone, including the wellbeing of people in prison - and of course, protecting wellbeing better equips people to reintegrate with their communities.

"But currently, our prisons are like mazes without exits: once people get swept into the system, they don’t always get the support they need to find a way out. Instead, as the Inspectorate’s report highlights, many are being harmed or facing hardship by the way they are treated in prison. Isolating people for extended periods of time means they may be less likely to be able to engage in rehabilitation and education programmes. Unsurprisingly, this can make the process of reintegrating into the community all the more challenging and may make it more difficult for people to demonstrate progress in any application for parole.

"The fact that 67% of segregation directions during the report’s review period were made in relation to Māori prisoners is deeply troubling, as this suggests Māori may be disproportionately affected by these prison practices.

"The lack of adequate record-keeping on the use of separation is simply unacceptable. Given the serious impacts of separating people from positive human interaction, these practices must be carefully recorded and monitored in order to identify any violations of human rights standards. This is not the first time that record-keeping issues have been raised in prisons, and the Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis must take responsibility for urgently addressing yet another failure in this domain.

"To our dismay, we’re seeing a clear pattern of serious human rights issues being raised in prisons across the country. This pattern indicates that transformational changes are needed across the prison system. Importantly, our government needs to work with Māori to design a justice system that fully upholds Te Tiriti o Waitangi."