Cells a human rights issue, says lawyer

22:35, Nov 20 2012

Conditions in the cells at Blenheim police station are so bad remanded prisoners are asking to stay in prison and miss appearing in court to avoid them, a Marlborough lawyer says.

While Tasman police said the cells met the standard requirements for holding cells, Blenheim lawyer Rob Harrison said conditions in the cells were inhumane. He believed they breached international protocol on human rights as they have no natural light, poor heating and no space for prisoners to exercise.

The situation was so bad some clients remanded to Rolleston Prison, near Christchurch, were asking to be excused from appearing in court because they did not want to stay in the Blenheim cells, he said.

Prisoners transferred from Christchurch to appear in court usually had to spend at least three nights in the cells. The trip in the prison van cages was extremely uncomfortable, and could include as many as seven or eight prisoners, Mr Harrison said.

When an offender was first arrested and appeared before a justice of the peace on a Saturday and was denied bail, they could be in the cells until Wednesday, he said.

It could be difficult for people in the cells to have a shower or a wash as police had to be available to supervise, which was not always possible. In winter, the cells were freezing cold.


"They're substandard. I would not wish it on anyone."

The Blenheim police were doing their best and the tight police budget was to blame for the terrible conditions, Mr Harrison said.

Tasman police region communications officer Barbara Dunn said the Independent Police Conduct Authority had surveyed all police cells and found the Blenheim cells reached all the standards required, including management of prisoners and their access to facilities such as showers.

"If they have to wait for their room service in the cells, we're probably not going to apologise for that," she said.

It was not uncommon for people to be held in the cells for three days, but each case was different.

Police did not respond to requests from the Express to view the cells.

An Independent Police Conduct Authority spokeswoman said it had to follow strict protocol laid in the Crimes of Torture Act when inspecting cells, but it could not release any details of its reports. The authority reports to the Human Rights Commission, which oversees monitoring of places of detention in New Zealand.