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Corrections Amendment Bill proposals may fail international standards
The Human Rights Commission has a special status in relation to the treatment of prisoners as it is the specially designated Central National Preventive Mechanism under the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture.
The Commission believes in general the current corrections legislation provides a sound framework which has been praised internationally as advancing security and good order in prisons with the proper rehabilitation of prisoners.
The balance between the safety of prison officers and efficiency and efficacy in the difficult environment in which they work, and the entitlement of prisoners to humane treatment and respect for their inherent dignity, is part of New Zealand’s human rights heritage.
The Commission unreservedly supports managing prisoners in a safe, secure, humane, effective and efficient manner. The Commission also strongly supports the extension of employment opportunities to self-employed prisoners and believes that the proposed changes will build on the progress being made on the rights of prisoners to work and to make financial contributions.
The Commission, however, believes that several of the proposed changes in the bill, and their cumulative effect, significantly impact on New Zealand’s international obligations under international human rights law, and reduce human rights safeguards without compelling justification. New Zealand should not be lightly risking its reputation and the Commission wants the Committee to be aware that it is likely to face criticism from the Committee Against Torture (CAT) when it reports again next year, and the UN Sub-committee on Prevention of Torture, if it proceeds with some of the proposed changes.
The Commission as the Central National Preventive Mechanism feels particularly strongly about the changes to strip searches, to the reductions in minimum entitlements to exercise, and to the removal of external scrutiny on the use of mechanical restraints. The Commission believes these will breach the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. We are asking this Select Committee to preserve the status quo and we draw the Committee’s attention to section 5(1)(b) of the Corrections Act that provides for prisons to be operated in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
In particular the Commission:
- is opposed to the expansion of strip searches, the removal of the “reasonable grounds” threshold, the increased level of intrusiveness and absence of the requirement for the prison manager’s prior approval
- has concerns about the reduction of prisoners’ minimum entitlements to exercise when outside the prison attending court of one hour per day and suggests sufficient staffing be made available so NZ meets UN requirements
- welcomes the narrowing of scope for use of mechanical restraints but strongly opposes the removal of Visiting Justice scrutiny which provides an important check and balance
- is concerned that creating a new offence in relation to dilution of drug test samples may have the unintended consequence of breaching the UN Minimum Standard Rule of the ready availability of drinking water.
Dr Judy McGregor, Human Rights Commissioner