Monitoring places of detention 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.
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.
“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,” Mr Rutherford said.
“New Zealand is experiencing a crisis in regard to managing mental health needs of detainees. Various monitoring visits found unsuitable environments for people with mental health issues particularly in Police custodial facilities, in youth justice and care and protection residences,” he said.
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.
“The Ministry of Health must continue to work with Police to develop working practices so that people who need a mental health assessment do not end up detained in Police cells for that purpose.”
Privacy also remains an issue in some detention environments. The Office of the Ombudsman has found that there still is a lack of minimum privacy in some of the prisons it visited. Camera surveillance of toilet and shower areas in some prisons remains an issue. The inspections over the year also observed that unlock periods for youth in particular can be too short.
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.
Media enquiries contact:
- Human Rights Commission, communications adviser, Karen Coltman: 021 574 156
- IPCA Group Manager Operations, Warren Young: 021 557 783.
For information about the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture visit: http://www.hrc.co.nz/your-rights/human-rights/international-human-rights-legislation/international-obligations/
The National Monitoring Mechanism is:
- the Ombudsmen: prisons, health & disability, Immigration, children & young persons' residences
- the Independent Police Conduct Authority: police custody
- the Children’s Commissioner: children & young persons' residence
- The Inspector of Service Penal Establishments: Defence Force.
- The Human Rights Commission has a coordination role as the Central NPM with responsibilities for coordination, reports, systemic issues and liaison with the UN.