Latest report on torture finds persistent issues in places of detention

Latest report on torture finds persistent issues in places of detention

June 19, 2020

Prisoners moved from their home region, poor facilities for those with physical or intellectual disabilities, the high number of young Māori in care and protection residences and the provision of basic hygiene products for female detainees, remain issues according to a new report. 

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said the latest Monitoring Places of Detention report, tabled in Parliament yesterday, “illustrates that, while progress has been made, more needs done to ensure anyone detained has their human rights upheld”.  

He said places of detention had international human rights obligations they must adhere too under the Convention against Torture.

“They need to ensure that those who are detained have sufficient access to their whānau and community, and have meaningful access to employment, training and education. They also need to have policies and practices that are responsive to the over-representation of Māori in detention,” Hunt said.

The report covers the period of 2018 to 2019. “The issues we’ve previously seen in places of detention are likely to have been exacerbated under COVID-19 and during the lockdown,” said Hunt. 

The report highlights:

  • The Chief Ombudsman remains concerned that the growing prison population is resulting in a high percentage of prisoners being transferred out of their home region, compromising access to legal representation and whānau. Time out of cell for many prisoners and access to timely case management was poor. Facilities for intellectual disabilities inspected were no longer fit for purpose, and the high occupancy levels in mental health units was detrimental to providing optimal nursing care. 
  • The Office of the Children’s Commissioner inspection domain includes Responsiveness to Mokopuna Māori. This domain assesses the Government’s responsibilities under the Treaty of Waitangi to partner with, protect and ensure participation for Māori. In the reporting period, mokopuna Māori made up 62% of the children and young people in Oranga Tamariki care and protection residences and 73% of the youth justice residential population.
  • The extent to which the rights of individuals are being protected remains an area of concern for the Independent Police Conduct Authority, particularly around the provision of basic hygiene products like toothbrushes and sanitary products for female detainees. It was also identified that Police cells have a limited ability to properly cater to detainees with physical disabilities.

The report is produced annually by the five bodies responsible for monitoring to places where people are deprived of their liberty. It was prepared by the New Zealand National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) and outlines their activities during the reporting period 1 July 2018 – 30 June 2019.

The NPM is comprised of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Inspector of Service Penal Establishments. The places they inspect include prisons, police cells, military detention, refugee resettlement facilities, compulsory care facilities, Oranga Tamariki care and protection facilities, and youth justice residences. 

The NPM operates under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (“OPCAT”). The Human Rights Commission is the Central National Preventive Mechanism responsible for coordinating the activities under the Optional Protocol. 

“It’s important for New Zealand to remain not only committed to the prevention of torture and ill-treatment but a leader in preventive monitoring under OPCAT,” says Hunt.

Click here to read the report.

Click here to read a word version of the report.


For more HRC information: Email [email protected]

Office of the Children’s Commissioner: Email [email protected]   

The Ombudsman: Email [email protected]

Independent Police Conduct Authority: Email [email protected]

More information

The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (“OPCAT”) is a United Nations instrument which recognises that people deprived of their liberty are particularly vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment. OPCAT requires regular, independent visits to places of detention in order to provide a proactive safeguard against human rights abuses in places that, by their very nature, fall outside the public gaze.   The purpose of OPCAT monitoring visits and inspections is to strengthen the protections and improve the circumstances of people detained within these facilities, not just to ensure that the minimum material conditions of detention are met. For this reason, inspections can and, in appropriate circumstances, should look beyond immediate material conditions of detention. Over the last 12 years NPM’s have developed a robust system to examine, and where appropriate make recommendations to improve, the care and treatment of people deprived of their liberty under New Zealand law.