Mental health in places of detention

Mental health in places of detention

December 21, 2015

This year the predominant findings of agencies monitoring places of detention in New Zealand is that the mental health of a substantial number of detainees is at risk of worsening while they are under state care. 

When a state deprives people of their liberty it has the responsibility to ensure that they receive adequate treatment for all their health needs, including mental health and that the conditions under which they are detained does not injure their health.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford, speaking as Chair of the National Preventative Mechanism, says the combination of lack of proper attention to mental health and an inability of many staff to cope with the mental health needs of detainees means the government is not consistently providing the care that people have a right to receive. 

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has again found that the number of people in Police detention that suffer from mental impairment, including alcohol and drug dependency is alarming, putting considerable pressure on staff. Mental health related calls for assistance to the Police has increased 350 percent over the last 20 years and incidents involving threatened or attempted suicide attempts by 800 percent.

Its review of police custodial management focused on problems with the way in which people suffering from mental health related distress are dealt with in police custody. It found that the police custodial environment is an entirely inappropriate environment to hold such persons when they have not committed an offence but instead have been detained for assessment as a result of a mental health crisis.

“This is an inappropriate way to treat such people. It can be traumatic for them and exacerbate their mental health condition,” Mr Rutherford said.

A new Police and Ministry of Health initiative which treats people with mental health issues as patients, not prisoners has just been announced.

“I congratulate the Police and health authorities on working together to develop working practices so that people who need a mental health assessment do not end up detained in Police cells for that purpose.”

Both the Ombudsman’s Office and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner have found that our youth facilities have many areas in need of development. 

“Some have rundown environments, there is a lack of direction for youth justice facilities, there are issues with children and young people lacking confidence in the complaint system and there is a lack of staff capacity and capability to assist children that need counselling and specialist mental health support,” Mr Rutherford said.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) 2015 report is here

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