Chief Human Rights Commissioner endorses Ombudsman’s hard-hitting OPCAT report on Restraint in Prisons

Chief Human Rights Commissioner endorses Ombudsman’s hard-hitting OPCAT report on Restraint in Prisons

March 1, 2017

Concerning details around the use of restraint in a number of New Zealand prisons have highlighted the importance of independent monitoring of places of detention in New Zealand, says the Human Rights Commission.

The findings, contained in a report released today by the Office of the Ombudsman, detail the concerns of the Ombudsman’s Crimes of Torture Act inspectors around the care and management of prisoners considered to be at risk of suicide and self-harm.

The inspectors operate under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and play a key role in monitoring places of detention in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford, who leads the OPCAT Central National Preventative Mechanism, says the Commission strongly endorses the Ombudsman’s findings, calling the report a milestone for the OPCAT mechanism.

“The Ombudsman has determined that Corrections has breached the Convention against Torture, the Corrections Act and Corrections regulations.  Without the co-ordinated preventative monitoring activities that the OPCAT allows us to carry out, these sorts of breaches would go undiscovered,” Mr Rutherford says.

“This report underscores the importance of preventive monitoring – the OPCAT framework permits our National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) agencies to challenge the system and ensure New Zealand is meeting both domestic and international human rights laws and conventions.

“The monitoring carried out by NPMs opens the policies and practices of detention facilities up to public scrutiny and encourages the identification of ways to make improvements so that we can better comply with human rights obligations.”

The Commission has engaged independent expert Dr Sharon Shalev to undertake a wide-ranging review of restraint and seclusion practices across a range of detention facilities, including mental health units, youth justice facilities and prison cells.  The report is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

“Inhumane detention practices can have an ongoing detrimental impact on the lives of those who are held in these facilities. This impact can extend long after release from detainment and have flow on consequences for others in the wider community. 

“We have already seen the devastating long-term consequences of sub-standard care in the state sector through Judge Carolyn Henwood’s work with the confidential listening service and we cannot have a repeat. It is vital that agencies, such as Corrections, act upon the findings of these reports and make the necessary changes,” Mr Rutherford says.

To read the report and the Office of the Ombudsman’s media statement, visit: http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/newsroom/item/a-question-of-restraint

Human Rights Commission

The Commission works for a free, fair, safe and just New Zealand, where diversity is valued and human dignity and rights are respected.